Tribute to Tsegaye Gabre Medhin

A collection of poems by Poet Laureate Belatengeta Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin, Ethiopian poet, playwright, essayist and philosopher who passed away on Saturday, February 25, 2006.

Prologue to African Conscience

Tamed to bend
Into the model chairs
Carpentered for it
By the friendly pharos of its time
The black conscience flutters
Yet is taken in.

it looks right
It looks left
It forgets to look into its own self:
The broken yoke threatens to return
Only, this time
In the luring shape
Of luxury and golden chains
That frees the body
And enslaves the mind.

Into its head
The old dragon sun
Now breathes hot civilization
And the wise brains
Of the strong sons of the tribes
With an even more strange suffocation.

Its new self awareness
(In spite of its tribal ills)
Wishes to patch
its torn spirits together:
Its past and present masters
(With their army of ghosts
That remained to haunt the earth)
Hook its innermost soul
And tear it apart:
And the african conscience
Still moans molested
Still remains drifting uprooted.

A lover love-rejected
With a spirit dejected,
A monk God-forsaken
hose total Faith is shaken,
Are less lost than dreamer
Into whose peace a ” question ”
Plunged like a knife
And woke him to life,
To search, to find his way
To dodge, to fight his way
NOT dream it away !

On the grave of my friend, I stood.
 For blood and flesh, I stayed . . .
 And with faith I prayed, and prayed;
 For blood and flesh, he was robed . . .
And with doubt, I hoped, and I hoped.
On the grave of my friend, as I stayed;
        … On my future, I brood .

I stood on the grave of a man.
 A tomb-stone of a man, I burdened.
 The grave of a man, I murdered:
 And with hope, my future, I sketched,
 When with prayer, my killer hand, I stretched.
On the tomb-stone, of the man, I murdered:
        . . . Urrahh!!! I won!
On my victim’s carcass, I climb.
 While on his tomb, I tread …
 My bloody fingers, I spread:
 Thus to repent, to justify, I have tried …
 While I hoped, and prayed, I have cried.
And I won, my daily wine, and bread!
        … Is it a crime?

Who Is On Whose Way
I did not know, oh sir, that I stood on your way,
 It all happened in chance; argument is unfit,
 If we fight, others will benefit,
And as this road is also where my future lay,
Destiny forces me to answer you with ” Nay ”
 Pray lose no temper: lest you commit
 A risk to result in a regrettable wit,
For, if there be crime, guilty is just the day:

I am also in yours as you are in my shoes
 So do let us shift sir, to either side
  However painful it becomes, we should, though
We realize that it isn’t much to lose
 That in spite of us the way is wide
  And that after all, someday, both of us go.

Tears Inevitable
Showers of anguish
Rain, do not exhaust
Ocean of revenge
Of the innermost
Voice of the betrayed
Comfort of the lost,

  Tears torn of self
  Blood of the heart.


Tobbya, by Afawerk Gabre Yesus

Translation by Tadesse Tamrat of Ethiopia’s first novel which first appeared in Amharic in 1900

Much is due to him who is kind to others.
Much is lost to him who does evil unto others.
A kind man never gives; he lends!

Atvthe beginning of the Christian era, when the new religion was still
in the process of being preached, the Christians were very few
compared with the pagans. The pagans, moreover, counting on their
superiority of numbers and greater power persecuted the Christians,
invaded their land, plundered and devastated their possessions.
After every battle the pagans would massacre as many as they pleased and
reduce to slavery all those who were captured alive. Very few as they
were, the Christians were also strongly militant in defending their
honor and the frontiers of their land. Victory was not the monopoly
of any one side, the Christians and the pagans won the struggle at
different times, neither wanting peace and reconciliation, each
aiming at exterminating the other. Every year, every month, each side
would fight and massacre the other.
Once upon a time the pagans came as usual to plunder the land of the
Christians, to castrate, to kill or to enslave them. When the news
of this pagan attack reached
the ears of the Christian king he at once mobilized his forces,
organized them under four Dejazmaches, or generals, and sent
them to fight the enemy and defend their faith. The pagan army was,
however, ten times as large as that of the Christians. The battle was
therefore won by the pagans. Three of the Christian generals were
killed in action; the fourth was captured alive by the enemy.
Countless people lost their lives in the confusion that followed.
Very few were captured alive. None of the Christian soldiers could
escape from the hands of the enemy; no one returned home alive. After
the victory the pagan army invaded the country of the Christians and
took away as much spoils as they could.
The news of the Christian defeat reached every corner of the country.
Everyone began to mourn the loss of bis relative on the battle field.
The king himself was so overcome by the sudden news of this complete
pagan victory and the loss of his army and his generals that he soon
died of grief and shock. The Christians lost their king. They had no
ruler. Their country soon became a wilderness.
The Christian general who was captured alive was sold into slavery by the
soldier who captured him. The latter never knew that the man he was
selling as a slave was
actually one of the leading generals of the Christian army.
The man who bought him, however, was much pleased with his stature and
strong build. He felt happy that he had bought such a strong slave.
Counting on his strong appearance he always assigned to him the most
difficult jobs in the household. He ordered him to cut the grass for
his animals, to split wood for fire, to load the asses with big
camping tents, and to carry the pole and pegs. All these occupations
were, however, quite new to the unfortunate ex-general. When he tried
to mow the grass his tender hands were cut by the blades of grass and
bled. His fingers, used only to holding glass bottles (Birille) in
his glorious days, developed hard scales as a result of daily work
with the axe and similar implements. Nevertheless he tried his best
to do everything for fear of provoking his master, and lest his
master apply his cruel whips on his tender body. Finally, however,
his swollen hands were sore with wounds, his shoulders on which he
carried many things were also wounded, he could stand it no more. His
master first thought that his new slave was beginning to be unwilling
to work and began to scold him and even wanted to flog him for his
negligence. But the ex-general could bear it no more. Whatever his
master might do to him he determined to be frank with him. He showed
his master his ailing body adding, "I have tried my best to
obey, but there is nothing I can do."
His pagan master saw how the hard, manual work had done much injury to
his new slave and began to suspect that this slave might be of noble
origin. He asked the soldier who sold him the slave in what kind of
clothes the slave had been captured. The soldier answered that the
prisoner had worn many decorations which when sold had fetched much
gold. The master was happy at this news. He concluded that his new
slave was no ordinary man and must have been a big man in his
country. Since he was useless for hard work, the master decided to
make money out of him.
One day the master called the ex-general in private and said to him :
"You Kafir (infidel) I bought you with much money from
the man who captured you. I am now at complete liberty to do anything
I like with you. But I feel guilty towards you. Now, send to your
relatives at home. Ask them to send you 100,000 waqets, or
ounces, of gold as ransom. On the receipt of that sum I shall let you
go home safe and free!"
The ex-general however knew that the land of the Christians had been
plundered. The king had died and the cattle were all taken by the
enemy. Moreover, even if these sad events had not occurred neither
the ex-general nor his family could raise so fantastic a sum. The
general had lived a generous life. He had decorated and rewarded the
valiant, he had given alms to the poor, and had never thought of
hoarding money. All this he knew very well and said to his master: "I
have no money to pay my ransom, I am poor. You can do anything you
want with me."
His personal servants had all been killed in action. The king had died.
He had no one on whom he could count at home. He only had his wife
and his twin children, a boy and a girl, both only sixteen years of
age. Each was a perfect image of the other. No one could distinguish
one from the other except by their dress.
His wife and children were first told that he had lost his life in the
war. Some time later, however they heard that actually he had been
sold into slavery and that his master had asked 100,000 waqets of
gold as ransom for him. This was a great relief to them. But to think
of his sufferings and hardship as a slave of the enemy was very
saddening and their inability to raise ransom to free him added much
to their sorrow. They wept at their misfortunes. The king of the
Christians had died and their country had been irrevocably
devastated. Where could they possibly raise that amount of ransom for
their dear one? Where? How could they liberate him? They could only
weep every day, but their tears could hardly help them.
The boy, Wahid, decided to go to his father’s master and offer himself as
a slave in his place. His mother, however, would not let him go. She
feared the pagans would deprive her of both her husband and her son.
Finally the children Wahid and Tobbya, and their mother pondered over
the matter and decided as follows: Wahid would hire his services to
whomever might need them and save his earnings. Tobbya would collect
wood for the fire, draw water, and prepare the family’s food. Their
mother would spin and thus earn something for her labor and help with
the sowing. Lastly, they agreed to dismiss all their servants and
other members of the household since they had nothing with which to
pay them, and, still worse nothing with which to feed them. It was of
course fantastic to think of raising 100,000 waqets of gold by
saving the money they could thus earn, but what else could they do?
That was the only thing left to them.
Their mother began spinning as much as she could. Wahid began looking for a
master whom he could serve in return for a humble wage. Tobbya went
out to collect sticks for the fire. Singing with childish innocence,
she made herself entirely responsible for their food which consisted
almost wholly of different leaves and various types of grass, and
roots. She would collect these every day and prepare food for the
small family. The three would then come together from their various
duties, discuss their problems and eat what Tobbya could prepare for
them. The next day each would return to his or her routine work.
One day Wahid, who was still looking for a job, came to a big town on the
outskirts of which, in one of the green fields, he saw the camp of a
big merchant. He approached it to inquire for work. He asked the
keeper of the animals who the merchant was and whither he was going.
The man told him: " This camp belongs to a big merchant. He
deals in ivory, coffee, and civet. He is now going to Egypt."
Thank you very much. Do you know if this merchant needs any
servants?" asked Wahid. "Oh! yes," the man replied, "
most of his servants are now laid up because of a fever that has
broken out in the camp. The merchant has been much delayed because of
this event and is looking for capable men. He has said he would pay
double the normal wage for such servants!"
Wahid thought he was in luck at last, and happy at the news, ran to the
camp without even saying goodbye to his kind informant. He approached
the biggest tent which, he thought, must belong to
the merchant.
There he presented himself to the chief guard saying: " I have
heard the news that his lordship wants servants. I have come to be
one of them."
The guard could not believe his ears. It was unimaginable to him that a
young boy in such noble dress and with such pleasant manners could
offer himself as a caravan servant! But he was only a guard, he knew
that his master was in desperate need of servants. He went into the
tent, therefore, and said to his master, " Sir, a fine healthy
young man is standing outside offering to be one of your servants."
The merchant was irritated by the words, " a healthy young
A healthy young man indeed?" he railed at his chief guard. As if
I needed the contrary! As for sick men I already have them in
hundreds, you fool!"
But I said a fine young man, Sir," replied the guard, implying
that he hardly looks suitable for caravan service."
The merchant did not wait to listen to this rejoinder. He hurried out of
his tent to see the applicant, and the guard silently followed his
master. When he reached the gate of the tent the latter looked here
and there. There was nobody there except for the young, tender boy,
Wahid. He turned to his guard with bewilderment and asked, "
Where is the man you told me about?"
It is I, Sir," began Wahid without giving the guard time to
answer his master’s question. " If you are willing, Sir, I have
come to offer my services to you. Please accept them kindly."
The merchant fixed the young boy with his eyes and With no little
surprise. "Eh!" he began, "That is just the type of
servant I really wanted for my caravan!" he added sarcastically,
with a grunt.
Sir," Wahid began his supplication, seeing that the merchant
thought him a good-for-nothing, " It is said that a thin but
obedient ox is much better at the plough than a fat and lazy one.
Please do not judge me by my tender looks. I am capable of serving
the caravan."
When he heard these wise words the merchant began to like the young boy.
But why on earth," he began addressing his young friend, "
why on earth should a fine and well-bred boy like you wish to work
for a caravan? Your language is refined, your habits elegant, and
your manners those of a man of noble birth. How then could love of
money make you desire to be a servant of a merchant?"
Wahid did not interrupt the man. He let him speak out his heart. "Oh!
Sir," he began at last, "it is not love of money really.
Had you known my sad story, and the misfortunes that befell me and my
family you would not have judged me so lightly."
Excuse me," said the merchant regretting his hasty judgment. "
Come and tell me your whole story. You know a man can at first sight
only judge from appearances." Saying this he asked Wahid to
saddle his mule for him. " We shall go out together and talk
about everything," he added. Wahid immediately saddled the mule
for the good merchant and they went out together. A few paces from
the big tent the merchant said to Wahid, " Now, my friend, tell
me all your problems."
The merchant had mounted on the mule and Wahid was walking by its side
with his left arm on the saddle. The mule was trotting gracefully.
Sir, you were right in thinking that I am of noble birth. I am the
son of a Dejazmach. I used to live a life of ease and comfort. But as
you know when the pagans invaded our country, the king mobilized his
forces under his four generals and sent them to fight the enemy. One
of these generals was my father. In the ensuing war, God was not
willing to help the Christians and so the victory went to the pagans.
Thousands of people died on the field; many others were captured
alive and sold into slavery. Three of the generals lost their lives
in action. My father was captured and sold as a slave. Recently,
however, we heard that the pagan who bought him, suspecting from his
looks that he was a rich man, has offered to free him provided he
pays a ransom of 100,000 waqets of gold.
At this news my mother, my sister and myself were saddened. We knew
we could not raise that much ransom to free him. Moreover, my father
never hoarded money; he only delighted in giving what he had to those
in need. Where could we get that much money? Had the king been alive
he would have paid it; but he died of shock as a result of his
defeat. The land is devastated; the people have been massacred, the
cattle have been plundered, and the harvests have been burnt down by
the enemy. Where could one get money?
After long and useless deliberation we decided that my sister be
responsible for preparing our food. My mother earns some money by
spinning and I have been assigned to seek service. My mother and I
will save our earnings to help raise the ransom for my father. That
is why I came to you. I would have liked to go and offer to be a
slave in my father’s place. My father has taken special care in
raising me with much comfort and luxury. I would have liked to pay
back what I owe him. My mother, however, would not allow me to do
that. She thought she would lose both of us at the same time. She
forced me to pledge myself before a priest that I would not try to do
"This is the reason why I want to be hired as a servant. Please Sir, do not
judge me badly!"
The merchant listened carefully, with much feeling and sympathy, to
Wahid’s story. When Wahid finished his tale the man said to him: "I
have some business in my tent. I shall go there. Return whence you
came. May God help you in your plans!" All merchants carry a
certain amount of money with them wherever they go. On this occasion
the good merchant gave Wahid all the money he had with him in a bag.
Before he parted with Wahid, however, he carefully asked him the name
of his father and the name and address of his master. Wahid was very
much excited at this generosity of a man he had never known. The boy
carried the bag full of gold to his house trembling with emotion and
unable to say a word. He was so happy that he did not even say
goodbye to his benefactor! Neither did he ask the name and address of
that good merchant. He simply ran off home with the money he had

Before he reached home, he hid himself in a bush, opened the bag the
merchant had given him, poured the contents thereof onto his shamma
and counted how much he had got.
He found that the merchant had given him 40 waqets of
gold. He was greatly pleased with that. He ran to his house, and
surprised both his mother and his sister with his acquisition of the
day. He told them the story of his meeting with the merchant, and how
the latter had given him the money.
His mother and Tobbya were astounded at the generosity of the man, and
when they thought of the possibility of their beloved one coming back
to rejoin them their hearts beat with excitement. It was evident that
the merchant had asked Wahid to saddle his mule for him and follow
him out of the camp just because he wanted to create a favorable
atmosphere for helping the boy if necessary. He thought it would be
much easier for the boy to accept a gift as a return of some service,
however small.
However generous the gift, it was for less than the amount asked as ransom.
Therefore all three resumed their efforts to raise the required
amount. Each drearily spent the day trying to earn as much as
possible and when the day was done met together in the evening for
One day they had gathered together as usual in the evening and Tobbya had
prepared their food. She had cooked the vegetables she had collected
for the day. She had laid the table and they were all having supper.
They were speaking about the generosity of the good merchant. "When
will be the day when we can save as much? When are we going to send
the ransom? When is he going to be freed? When are we going to see
his eyes again? It is going to take many, many years still",
they were saying this, longing to see their father and regretting
that they could not ransom him as soon as they wanted.
Just at that moment the door opened very gently. Someone entered slowly
and stood in front of them. All three were taken by surprise. They
looked at the strange man. It was their beloved father himself! They
could not believe their eyes, thinking they were merely day-dreaming.
The man was also exhausted by his emotions at seeing all his dear ones
together and at the same time. He just stood there motionless and
with tears flowing down his face. He could not utter a word. Neither
could they say anything. They could not even stand up and greet the
man they had been longing to see! Some minutes passed in this way but
they soon came to their senses; they began to realize that it was
their father himself, the man they had so much desired to see, the
man they had so much missed. All stood up at once and ran to him
throwing themselves on him one after the other. None could wait until
the other had greeted him. No. They embraced him all at the same time
: one of them hung on his neck, the other clung to his waist and
third fell on his knees. It was a scene full of emotion. Anyone who
saw these poor souls at that moment would verify it.
Neither could the father control his emotions. His eyes were wet with tears
and his voice was choked as he spoke: "How are you my dear ones?
How are you? How could you raise so much ransom for me," he
asked them tenderly crying like a small child. "Where could you
get that much to liberate me from slavery? I never tried to save
money for such an unfortunate emergency. Where could you get it?"
They did not know what to answer. They knew very well that they had as yet
sent no money to free him. They were only trying their very best to
save as much as they could and to raise the required amount. They
were nonplussed. They merely looked at each other. When he saw that
no one was answering his question the father turned his face toward
Wahid and asked: "Wahid, you, my son? But where could you get so
much money?" Wahid had no answer. He was sure he had not sent a
cent! After a lapse of some minutes, however, Wahid remembered the
good merchant who had before so generously given him some waqets
of gold. "Ah!" he cried. "Now I know who sent the
money to liberate you. Father, do not think it was me. No." He
then told his father the story of the good merchant, how he had given
him forty waqets of gold and how he had finally asked him the
names of his father and that of his pagan master and the latter’s
When he heard the story, the father was greatly amazed at God’s mercy. He
began to thank Christ and bless the good merchant who had liberated
him from slavery. "My son," said the Dejazmatch, "that
good merchant who never knew me and whom I never knew, who is not
related to me at all, that man sent so much money to pay for my
freedom? Not only that. He sent me a good horse and sufficient
provisions for my return journey. Thus did he enable me to be amongst
you once again, to mix with my children and my beloved wife, to come
back to my sweet home and be happy again! I must therefore go and
meet my unknown benefactor. Of course, I cannot pay back what he has
done for me. But I can at least thank him for his kindness and bless
him in the name of God. My son, please take me to his camp if he is
still around."
But Wahid knew only the merchant’s face. He did not even know his name or
whence he came. He had forgotten to inquire of such matters in the
excitement of his sudden acquisition of the 40 waqets of gold!
He was ashamed of himself. " Where can I now find that good
man?" he began to worry. " Where can I find that wonderful
man who has been so generous to us, who has brought back our father
to us. What can I do to find him?" Finally he decided that he
would not rest until he found the merchant and told him of the
happiness he had restored to him and his family. He would not stay at
home until he had done that. He would travel around the world, even
until his death, to find that good merchant. With this decision Wahid
prepared his provisions for the long journey, seized his traveling
stick, took leave of his family with much difficulty and set out on
his long journey.
At first Wahid traveled fast. He went in the direction of the town at
the outskirts of which he had just met the merchant camping with his
large caravan. As soon as he approached the gates of the town Wahid
turned his eyes to the field, where the merchant’s tents had been
pitched. He spent quite a long time just looking at the area where
the man had camped, thinking about the merchant. He began to cry, and
sat down until his eyes were clear of the tears that filled them.
Some time later he stood up and resumed his journey toward the town,
always looking towards the place where the camp used to be. He looked
at nothing else. As a result his neck was strained and his feet were
repeatedly struck by obstacles on his way. Careless of all these
Wahid continued his way and finally entered the walls of the town.
But what could he do there? He did not know the merchant’s name; he
did not know where he lived. He could therefore neither ask anybody
about the man nor go to his house. He found his ideas were silly. He
was confused. He just stood at the center of one of the cross-roads
like a simple fool who did not know what to do or where to go. Wahid
was a young boy who was always used to a comfortable life; it was
only during the short absence of his father that he had had a little
taste of the hard life. Now, in that town where he knew nobody he
began to feel thirsty. Hunger was added to that. He began to yawn
repeatedly, and his eyes became heavy with fear. All this while,
however, Wahid never regretted his decision to look for the man to
the end. He was determined, once and for all, that he would search
for the man even until his death if necessary. Nothing would persuade
him to change his mind!
When hunger and thirst got hold of him he approached a nearby spring, ate
sparingly of his provisions, and drank a good deal of water. He then
thanked God for His generous gifts of nature and got up to resume his
search. He began to go round the town. He went to all the squares and
public centers, to the various streets, to the churches and to many
other places. All was in vain. He could not find his man. Wahid began
to despair. It was now fifteen days since he came to the town. All
this while, Wahid wandered around the town during the day and spent
his nights in the porches of the churches taking shelter from wild
beasts. He realized that the rich merchant he was looking for was no
longer in the town. " Where then can I look for him?’" he
began to ask himself. After a long time he decided to go to all
caravan camps to join in the journeys of such caravans, and to look
for the merchant in this way. That became his final decision.
On the morrow Wahid left the town and set out in one direction at random
in search of caravans and caravan camps. Every time he came to a hill
he would climb it and try to look from the top to see if there were
any caravans or camps around. Whenever he met passers by he inquired
whether they had seen caravans on their way. If they told him the
direction whither they saw caravans heading, or the place where they
had seen caravan camps, Wahid would immediately run in that
direction, catch up the party and search for the good merchant among
the traders. The only way he could know this man was, of course, by
seeing his face. He could not ask for the man by his name as he did
not know it. Thus did Wahid continue his fruitless search for his
benefactor. He spent the day running now in this direction, now in
that, wherever he heard caravans were to be found, and spent the
night wherever he was caught by the sudden approach of nightfall.
One day, after the usual long and tedious search Wahid came to a
place where no sign of human habitation was to be found. Far away
beyond the wilderness he saw a big caravan camp. He thought it looked
liked the one in which he had met the good merchant and at once felt
happy. He wanted to reach that camp before dark and began to run. But
he had to cross many rivers and wide plains. The more he ran towards
it the more did the camp seem to retreat from him. The sun was
setting and night began to fall. Gradually it became difficult to
see. There was no moonlight to help him.
The sweet songs of birds heard in the daytime were now replaced by the
ugly voices of insects and wild animals. On either side of the poor
boy walking in the darkness wolves and foxes began to howl; hyenas,
leopards and lions made frightening noises all around him.
Nevertheless Wahid continued his way alone in the midst of the
wilderness, and shivered with fear and uncertainty.
Before sunset the songs of the birds had been a source of consolation to
him, but now he was surrounded by the cries of wild beasts. He was
very worried. He wanted to rest and spend the night there, but there
was no shelter. If he slept where he was the wild beasts would soon
devour him. Wahid was at a loss what to do. He decided to defend
himself from the wild beasts rather than be eaten by them in his
sleep. Furthermore he decided that he would not rest until he came to
the caravan camp he had seen from afar early in the afternoon.
In the meantime it was getting darker and darker. He could no longer see
his way, and began to be very frightened. He thought he saw wild
animals everywhere, a hyena, a leopard or a lion, laying in ambush
for him! "The hyena will soon eat me up," he began to
think. " The leopard will tear me to death with its cruel claws
,and the lion will break my bones into pieces! Oh! Woe unto me
tonight! If I escape the one I shall certainly be the prey of the
What else could he do? Wahid’s fear was justified. He was only a young
boy. Regardless of his fears and the darkness that had engulfed him
he continued his way in the direction of the camp he had seen. At one
juncture of this nocturnal journey he saw what he thought was a lion.
He was startled to death. His strength began to fail him. The more he
looked at the terrible object the more his fears seemed to be
confirmed; he thought the lion, thus created by his own fears, would
suddenly jump onto him and devour him mercilessly. Wahid wanted to
scare the object of his fears. He wanted to give the lion the
impression that he was surrounded by many people. He then shouted
with different voices to produce the effect of many persons running
after it: " Courage! Courage!"" he shouted. "
Surround it. Don’t let it go."
It was, however, simply his own imagination. There was nobody there
except himself, except his own shadow which added to the darkness
that confused his thinking. The object that he thought a Hon was
simply a bush. It would not move an inch whatever his endeavors to
scare it! Wahid then thought he must change his course to avoid the
terrible beast. Nevertheless when he looked back in the direction of
the bush he still thought that the lion was following him. Wahid
gradually became almost too weak to move, his fears enormously
reduced his strength. There was no shelter in which to spend the
and protect himself from wild beasts. He thought of climbing a tree
and thus avoid any dangers, but by a strange coincidence there was no
tree to be found there. Wahid began to worry greatly. His fears
increased with every minute that elapsed. Everything around
him seemed to him some wild beast ready to devour him on the spot. He
changed his course every time he thought he saw a wild beast in front
of him. While thus changing directions every now and then he came to
a small cave which suddenly appeared on his way. He was taken aback.
He was frightened to death. A cold sweat broke out over his face and
body. "I just escaped one lion," he thought with complete
despair, "and here I am again in front of another! I shall not
be able to escape this time!" His whole body was shivering like
a reed in an evening breeze. He tried to use his former stratagem of
scaring the object by shouting with different voices. He shouted and
shouted until his throat cracked with thirst. But all was in vain.
The object would not move an inch! Wahid thought he had not shouted
enough and so he began to shout with more strength and intensity
until he could shout no more. But all was of no effect. At last Wahid
began to doubt the reality of his fears. He began to suspect that the
object of his fears might just be a dark inanimate thing! He knelt
down in front of the small cave and began to stare hard at it. He
wanted to see if the object moved. After some minutes of close
observation he thought that the object did move a little. He still
stared at it, and now he thought it was even making some advance
towards him! He stared so hard that his eyes were strained and filled
with tears. He was, however, too frightened to make any movement
himself or to clean his eyes. His tears confused his sight all the
more and gave him the impression that the terrible object was heading
towards him with more rapidity. Later, however, Wahid succeeded in
mustering enough courage to throw some pebbles into the cave from
where he was kneeling. A small bird which had been sheltering in the
cave, as if by providential coincidence made a sudden noise and,
slapping the leaves with its wigs, took off and flew away in the
darkness. At first this confirmed Wahid’s fears. He thought that
the terrible wild beast was finally about to jump on him and devour
him. With this desperate idea in his head Wahid held his breath and
lay flat on the ground like a dead body. He waited and waited, but
nothing happened. "Am I still alive?" he asked himself.
Then he began to make slight movements to see if he had been bitten
by the wild beast or not. He found nothing. At first he had closed
his eyes, now he reopened them with much hesitation and found out, to
his surprise, that let alone a lion, not even a rabbit was in sight.
He even began to breathe deeply and rose to his feet. He looked into
the cave once again. It was still there. It did not move. He looked
hard at it with a strange mixture of fear and wonder. "Did I not
hear the terrible beast fly away, or was there no beast at all?"
he thought. "I am sure I have seen it with my own eyes. Did it
not bite me without my knowing?" He tried to inspect his body.
There was no sign of any attack. "What could it be?" he
began to ask himself. "What could it be that frightened me so
much? Could it be just my own troubled imagination? Anyway it is good
that nobody saw me in this frantic state! How can a man be
so much deceived by his own fears?" Wahid laughed at himself and
resumed his journey.
Wahid now gained some strength. His spirits revived again. He wanted to
reach the camp beyond before daybreak. It was, however, too late. It
was past midnight. Even the constellation of the six stars whose
twinkling light had given some consolation had now disappeared. It
became darker than before. Wahid kept losing his way but always found
it again. At last he could see the fire of the camp beyond. Now his
strength revived with renewed hope and he continued his way in the
direction of the camp fire. At this point he reached a river. He went
down into the valley to cross it. In the meantime he lost sight of
the campfire.
There was no moonlight. The morning star had not yet appeared. Though the
night was half over the darkness had not yet given way to light.
Moreover the walls of the deep valley and the shadows therein added
to the darkness that prevailed. Wahid hastened his steps down the
slopes of the walls of the valley. But he lost his sense of direction
and lost his way. What could he do? He had made up his mind to reach
the merchant’s camp he had seen and wanted to do that at any cost! He
literally crawled down to the bed of the river regardless of the
darkness, the thorny bushes that covered the ground, and the
difficulty of knowing the direction he had to follow.
No one knows whether the water of an unknown river is good to drink or
not. Wahid did not care to know. He had been parched with thirst for
the last few hours. His throat was cracking for want of water, and he
had lost practically all his voice. As soon as he reached the river
he knelt down and drank the water as if it were Tej (honey
wine) or Telia (beer). He never cared to examine its
cleanliness. He only tried to free it from the jelly-like green that
covered it at the surface by blowing on the stagnant water. After he
had his fill he thanked God for that, sat down on one of the rocks
and began seriously to consider how to cross the river. At first he
thought the river was too deep for him. He could not assess how deep
it was. Neither could he know which was the best ford. He could not
swim and therefore feared to start crossing the river at any point.
The river had no falls at that point, and Wahid had heard people say
that a gently-flowing river with no falls was generally deep. He did
not know what to do.
While he was thus worrying, there came, by a strange coincidence, a mule
who had escaped from the merchant’s camp on the other side of the
river. It had been very thirsty, like Wahid himself, and had come
there to get some water. The young man’s former fears of beholding a
wild beast and of being devoured by one returned to him when he saw
the mule advancing towards him. However he realized by the sound it
made that it was a mule. When it reached him it immediately entered
into the water and began drinking to its fill. Wahid could now see
that the river was not very deep. He immediately thought of getting
hold of the mule and of riding it to the camp which he was resolved
to reach that night. Therefore he had to catch it before it had
finished drinking. He slowly but surely advanced through the water in
the direction of the mule, always feeling its depth with his long
stick. Thus he crossed the river. In the meantime the mule shook
its head and ears and looked back at the wafer as if hesitating as to
whether to drink more or not. At that time Wahid approached the
animal and caught it by the collar. He first feared that it might
kick him and began stroking its body gently to make sure. The mule
submitted to his entreaties as though it had realized how much the
young boy had suffered before, as though it sympathized with him and
wanted to give him rest by letting him ride on its back. After
confirming that the mule was quite tame, he led it to a rock, and
climbed on its back. He turned it in the direction it had come from
and addressing it directly said, " Now you take me to your
camp." The mule followed the road to the camp and proceeded as
though it understood every word he said. At times, however, when it
came to a place along the road it would suddenly stop, graze a
little, and resume its journey to the camp at its own convenience.
And Wahid never urged it to go faster. He only clung tightly to its
mane to avoid falling. He did not spur the animal. He just allowed it
to trot as it wished. This he did because he felt it would show
ingratitude if he tried to tire the animal when it, of its own free
will, had allowed him to catch and ride it. " A guest never acts
as the master of his host’s house!" he thought.
The mule moved slowly and leisurely to join its fellow-animals at the
camp. As it approached the camp the mule-keepers heard its footsteps
and came running in that direction. They had just discovered it was
missing and were looking for it everywhere. When he saw this Wahid
was afraid of being caught riding a mule that belonged to others. So
he immediately dismounted and thought of hiding in the bushes around.
But the keepers of the night surrounded the mule and were trying to
catch it with the help of ropes. Wahid was thus discovered and
caught. He could not run away to escape his captors; he was too tired
because of his long journey. His feet could hardly move!
When they found the boy with the mule, the guards naturally thought that
Wahid had unfastened it from camp and had been caught while taking it
away. " Damn you, thief," they shouted at him and beat him
cruelly. All his supplications and entreaties passed unheard. Please
listen to me, I &m not a thief!" shouted Wahid weakly. It
was all in vain. " You thief, you liar, we have caught you
red-handed and now you are saying that you are no thief!" they
shouted back at him and continued beating him. When they reached the
camp some of them fastened the mule in the stable while the rest tied
Wahid’s hands and legs very tightly and left him helplessly lying on
the ground face downwards.
The cruel guards had tied Wahid so tightly that he could not move; he
could hardly even breathe. He was almost like a goat about to be
slain. Compared to the poor boy the mules and the other beasts of
burden were in much better condition. They only had one of their legs
tied to a pole and plenty of fodder was spread before them. Wahid
envied these creatures! "Oh if they had tied only my legs!"
he exclaimed. " If only I could breathe with ease like those
fortunate animals!" Breathing was now almost out of
the question for him. He almost burst his lungs. He turned his big
bright eyes to left and right. There was nobody to come to his help.
Nobody would stand by him or try to loosen his thongs. The suffering
and affliction he was subjected to was comparable to that of the
martyrs we read of in religious books. Each of the guards slapped him
in the face, struck him with his fist, and kicked him. Wahid passed
the night under such cruel conditions.
At daybreak almost all the members of the caravan who heard the story of
Wahid’s capture stood around the ailing young boy; they saw his body
sore with every kind of wound everywhere. These wounds were inflicted
on Wahid as a result of his long journey in the darkness. His captors
thought, however, that this confirmed their suspicion that Wahid was
a thief. They believed that, even before his capture he had been
caught stealing at some other place, whipped and beaten. This
explained, they thought, the wounds that could be seen on almost
every part of his body. Some of the merchants thought of giving the
young culprit over to the local chiefs for appropriate judgment.
Others said that they should keep him tied up and carry him with
Wahid’s condition in the meantime became worse and worse. He could not
breathe normally and became very weak—let alone traveling a
long journey with the caravan he did not even have the strength to
open his eyes. Some of the merchants around him kept on kicking Mm
and asking him whence he came. He could not answer. He was too weak
to do anything! He was almost at the point of death.
They pulled and pushed him around but he was almost dead. At this point
the majority of his captors thought that the boy would soon die and
that they would be held responsible for his death. It was now very
late in the morning and they had to get started on their journey.
They had no time to go to the local chief and pass Wahid over to him.
They simply untied him and left him lying on the dusty camp-ground.
Wahid had nothing to eat, nothing to drink and there were no relatives to
come to his aid. In the previous night he had been out-of-doors and
had been subjected to the bitter cold; now he was left lying there in
the burning sun. He had no strength to rise up or crawl to the shade.
In the last few days he had been exhausted by continuously traveling
day and night. Besides, his captors the previous night had subjected
him to the cruelest treatment. Moreover the pain of having been tied
up hands and feet had almost broken his tender bones. It was now two
days since he had had anything to eat. Where could he get the
strength to move an inch? Though still alive, Wahid could do nothing
to help himself. He lay flat in the sun waiting for the last moment
when he would pass away. He was sure that he would die.
A man does not die except on the day Christ has put aside for him.
Wahid was not destined to die at that moment. An elderly woman came
by the deserted camp ground to collect the rubbish for fuel. She saw
the body lying there. At first she thought that it was something
forgotten by the merchants. As she approached the body however, she
saw it was human. She walked on the tips of her toes and examined the
body from a distance. She thought
it was dead. She was much frightened and would not approach nearer.
Nevertheless she aid not like to return without making sure whether
the man was actually dead or not. At this point she held her breath
and approached the body on tip-toe. She stared at the body. It showed
no sign of life. She decided that it was in fact a dead body which
had lain there for days. She covered her nose to avoid any smell that
might come from what she thought was a rotting body. She came within
a few steps of the body: "What man are you?" she began to
ask. "What happened to you?" There was no answer. She kept
on looking at the motionless body. She tried to make sure whether she
knew the person. In the meantime she saw Wahid’s eyes. They were
half opened. They moved a little and looked at her as if imploringly.
From the look in his eyes it seemed that he was saying to the lady,
"Courage! Courage, good lady. I am not yet dead. Come nearer and
see my ailing body, and if you can, please help me." She felt
pity towards the boy. "What happened to you, my brother?"
she asked with much feeling. The poor boy could not reply. The woman
wept and struck her chest with her fists. 2In the meantime
she ran to her house and came back with a qwancha3
of milk in one hand and water in the other. She put down the quancha of
milk, raised Wahid’s head with one hand, and gave him the water to
drink. " Your throat must be cracking with thirst" she
said to him kindly. "Drink a little water at first to moisten
it." Wahid felt the cool water on his lips. He had no strength
to draw in any drops at all. Now that she saw that his cracking lips
were moist the good old lady applied the qwancha of
milk to his mouth. Wahid swallowed two mouthfuls with much
difficulty. This seemed to do him much good. He could now open his
eyes and he began to breathe normally. The good old lady was much
gratified at the success of her efforts and put her inquib4
under his head to serve him as a pillow. She ran to a small hill nearby and called her
husband who was ploughing beyond. "Come here, come" she
called to him. "I need your help." Her husband left his
plough and his oxen in the field and came running. The lady gave him
no time to ask questions. "Please help me," she said
immediately. "Let us carry this fine young man to our house and
care for him until he recovers." These kind people carried the
boy to their house and laid him on their bed and cared for him like a
good mother and father until he had completely recovered. Wahid was
astonished by this couple and wondered at the diversity of this
world. He contrasted their kindness with the cruelty of the caravan
guards and began to philosophize. "Oh! This world is full of
both evil and good. It is full of both the kind and the cruel."
Finally he decided to take leave of these kind people. "May God reward
you for whatever you have done for me," he said to them. "I
have nothing to give you in return, except my thanks. I have become
strong again, thanks for your kind care. I must now continue my
journey." His hosts prepared him provisions for the journey and
showed him the way. At last they warned him. "Do not forget what
you have suffered before. The people of this world are bad and cruel.
Be careful in the future and do not travel alone. We had only one
son. A group of Moslems found him alone on one of the highways,
caught him, and sold him into slavery. Here we are, robbed of our
only son, our only heir and hope, with nobody to care for us when we
become old. You must beware of similar possibilities. You are still
very young. Be careful not to be captured and sold by such heartless
people!" With these last words they said goodbye to Wahid and
returned home .
This time Wahid asked the names and addresses of his two benefactors and
their lost son before taking leave of them. He did not want to commit
the same mistake which had led to all these troubles. He then resumed
his journey. He went very far but he never knew where in the Dega
(highlands) or Qolla (lowlands) he was heading or what was
his destination. He only followed the tracks of every caravan he
heard of. When somebody told him that a group of merchants were going
one way he would follow that direction until he had ascertained that
his man was not there. In the course of this useless search, Wahid
crossed unawares the frontiers of the country of the pagans. However
he still did not find the good merchant for whom he was looking.
The languages of the people, their customs, and their manners became
unintelligible to him. He was now in the country of a strange new
people. Wahid was now seriously worried. He could not go back because
he had resolved to travel until he found his man. Moreover he did not
know which way he had come and had completely lost his sense of
direction. West and East became almost the same thing to him. While
thus worrying night suddenly fell on him. "1 shall ask for
shelter in one of these houses," he said to himself. "It is
better than just being devoured alive by hungry wild beasts."
With this in mind he went to one of the nearest houses and asked for
shelter for the night.
The villagers surrounded him. They looked very happy at seeing the
strange boy. They did not understand his language. But from his
gestures they understood that he asked to be allowed to spend the
night in one of their houses. He was more than welcome to them. They
were exceptionally happy. Some of them went to his left, some to his
right and ceremoniously took him to one of the houses. For a man who
did not know their motives the welcome these people accorded Wahid
would certainly seem one of genuine hospitality and of the type
accorded to a gallant soldier coming back victorious from a battle
field. They offered him a wonderful supper. Wahid began blessing
these kind people who, he thought, just wanted to be hospitable to
him. Their true motives was, however, to treat the young boy with all
kindness and to feed him so that he would become quite presentable at
the slave market on the morrow. In the meantime they inspected his
whole body and saw the wounds that had been inflicted upon him by the
caravan keepers but which had now been cured. They pressed hard on to
his body to see if he still felt pain. They were worried that this
might actually depreciate his value in the slave market. But Wahid
never suspected that his fate was being decided by these people. He
thought that they acted out of genuine concern for him and the
suffering he had undergone. He felt they were sympathizing with him.
"These wounds have
now been cured," he said to them. "I am well now!" But
none of them understood, nor cared to understand him. They were only
concerned about the amount of money they would get for him on the
morrow. They put him in a very safe place and watched him throughout
the night to make sure that he did not escape. The next morning they
awoke him very early and gave him some porridge to eat. Then they
began anointing his whole body with marrow! This looked very strange
to Wahid. He was only accustomed to being anointed, whenever
necessary for health reasons, with butter very carefully boiled with
sendel and other perfumes. He never knew that human beings could be smeared with
marrow like cowhide or ropes made out of animal skin. He therefore
reacted against the application of the marrow on to his body. "Please
do not touch me with that," he cried. "I do not want it at
all." Though they did not understand his language the men could
tell from his looks and gestures that Wahid resented the marrow. His
supplications, of course, made no difference to them for the only
thing they wanted was a handsome amount of money for Wahid. With his
belly filled with porridge and his body abundantly anointed with
marrow this hope was more than possible. Wahid resigned himself and
allowed his stubborn hosts to do what they wanted. It still had not
dawned on him that they had any motives other than helping him
recover from his wounds. "Oh God!" he exclaimed full of
wonder, "How kind and hospitable are the people of this
On the morrow, around 10 o’clock in the morning his hosts beckoned him
to follow them. he thought that those kind people wanted to take him
out for a walk and followed them immediately. They surrounded him and
he walked in their midst. Soon afterwards they reached a fair-sized
village. It was surrounded by a wide moat as if it were the fortified
castle of some lord! It was then encircled by a big stone wall at the
top of which were placed small branches of acacia and other thorny
trees so that no one could succeed in jumping over the wall. Within
that wall were many big rectangular houses and two round ones. There
were only two gates to the village, a very narrow one on one side and
on the other a much bigger one. The latter was specially made for
mounted persons to enter the village with ease.
At the main gate was stationed a man as black as Satan himself. His
chest was very wide; his stature very short, his eyes as red as
burning fire, and his nose as flat as if a roller had been
intentionally applied. He had diligently decorated his normally
massive arms which were as thick as the feet of an elephant with
large rings made of copper and tin. Around his naked belly he wore a
large belt on which hung a curious sword with four blades. This
strange man stood at the gate with a deadly stick in his right hand
ready to strike anybody who would trespass into the compound without
Wahid thought that the fortress belonged to the local governor. The men who
brought him there had sent a message announcing their arrival to the
owner of the house. They were soon given permission to enter. With
his hosts on either side Wahid passed the gate, and immediately
observed a group of wretched human beings coming in from every
direction. Some were crying; others looked deeply pensive and worried
about their fate. Wahid began to suspect that all was not well. He
realized that all the kindness shown to him the previous night was
not without some ulterior motive after all. He patiently waited to
see the end of the strange drama. What else could he do? Wahid was
now in a very unfortunate situation. He did not understand the
language of the people around him. He could only look around, and
guess what they meant! The dreadful place belonged to one of the big
slave dealers. The strong walls around, the thorns on top, and all
the fortifications were there simply to ensure that no slave escaped
his unpleasant lot.
The chief slave-dealer came out of his house and began inspecting the
human merchandise brought to him for sale. He began making inquiries
about their price. At length he came to Wahid. He inspected the arms,
the legs and the general stature of the boy. After a short amount of
bargaining Wahid witnessed his own sale into slavery. He saw his new
master handing a number of dollars to the men who had brought him
there. Those "kind and goodly" people returned home with
the money which they had so easily acquired for Wahids" youthful
head and left the boy behind them.
Fortunately his new master was not too hard on Wahid. He did not seek to make
money on this young boy. Indeed he even did not want him to work like
a slave. He liked the tender looks, the manners and personality of
Wahid and let ham grow in his house as a playmate of his own
Even under these conditions Wahid never forgot the object of the journey.
"How can God" he thought, "Jet me stay in the hands of
these pagans?" How can he deny me the opportunity to meet that
good merchant and rejoin my beloved family?" Gradually Wahid
came to know many Christians like himself who had been sold into
slavery and were serving the same master. He began to make friends
with them. He asked these men the place of their origin, their names,
and those of their relatives. He did this with much precaution for
fear of being discovered toy his master and punished.
Among these slaves was the son of those kind people who found Wahid lying
in the deserted camp of the merchants who had beaten him almost to
death. Those people had told Wahid the name of their son before he
had left them. This fortunate discovery pleased Wahid greatly. Wahid
told the boy that his parents had been very kind to him. He also told
him that they were weeping day and night over the loss of their son.
Wahid and his new friend began to lake each other. They became almost
one. They shared their secrets and had common hopes of one day
returning to their respective homes.
It was one year now since Wahid set out on his unfortunate journey. His
family still did not know his whereabouts and were convinced that he
had lost his way. They waited and waited, always weeping and mourning
for the return of Wahid. It was all in vain. At last Wahid’s father
resolved to look for his son, he saddled the horse that the good
merchant had sent him for his return home and set out on his search
for Wahid. There was nobody who could accompany him. He had lost his
servants and followers as a result of "the war: some had fallen
in the battlefield, some had like himself been captured and sold into
slavery by the enemy, and when
he returned home he had himself fallen into poverty with the whole
country desolate and the king dead. When she saw her father set out
on a long journey without any companion, Tobbya feared that her
father would also lose his way. She began to cry and would not let
him leave alone. "Father" she implored him, "how can
you go alone on such a long journey? You have never been used to
traveling alone, nor to the hardships that accompany such journeys.
Who will bring fodder for your horse? Who will draw water for you
when you feel thirsty? Please, father, let me follow you on this
journey. Do not leave me behind, father. I can at least break the
monotony of the long journey by conversing with you. I can also graze
the horse for you. Please do not leave me behind!" Tears were
flowing down her beautiful cheeks as she spoke. Her father understood
her worries, he felt her love for him, and began himself to cry.
"No, my child, no. You cannot do that, my dear. You are still a young
girl. You have never been exposed to extreme cold and heat. How can
you stand such a long journey with the thirst and hunger that
accompany it? How? Oh, no, my beloved, you cannot come with me."
"I shall not let you leave alone. No. I am coming with you, Father, I
can." Tobbya implored her father to let her go with him. But her
father was still adamant. He saw the difficulties they would have to
face if he took a young girl, still in tender years, on such a
dangerous journey.
"You cannot help me in anything. On the contrary you will be a hindrance
to me. You will delay my success in finding Wahid. No, Tobbya, you
are not going with me." He told her very clearly the problems
they would face if they went together. "Look here, Tobbya,"
he tried to convince her, "You are still very young. You have
been brought up with much comfort and luxury, with tej for your daily
beverage. How can you stand the thirst and hunger and the fierce heat
of the sun? How can your feet which are used to the softness of
Persian carpets, stand the thorns and gravels of the road? No,
Tobbya. You must stay at home with your mother." With this final
resolution he embraced her and kissed her cheeks. Tobbya was still
not convinced. She did not give up her insistence on traveling with
her beloved father. "Father, do not worry about me," she
told him. "I am still young and can get used to new conditions
of life. Indeed it is only the licentious and the corrupted type of
rich fortune: a disciplined, intelligent person can easily get used
to poverty and hard life, if need be. This will not be difficult for
me. On the other hand, if you leave me behind my worries about you
and Wahid will almost kill me. It is much better for me to go along
with you and participate in your search for my brother."
"Why do you not understand, Tobbya?’" reproved her father. "What
about your mother? What will people say if I take you with me? How
can we leave your mother alone with nobody to console her if the
worst comes?"
"Oh! forget what people will say," remarked his wife. "Do not
worry about me. I can easily get an elderly woman who can live with
me. The only thing that worries me is that Tobbya might be tired on
the way, and then she would be another problem for you. However, if
she feels she can do it, you do not have to worry about me."
With this the lady turned to Tobbya and asked her. "My dear
child, do you really think you can make it?"
"Yes, Mother, Yes. If you do not mind being left alone and if you permit me
to go with Father, Mother, I am sure I’ll make it. Only help me to
get his consent."
Before her father gave bis consent, an idea occurred to Tobbya. But she was
afraid to tell it to her parents. "The only problem, Father, is
. . ." she began. Courage prevented her completing her sentence.
Her father understood that something was running in her mind,
something she was afraid to express. "Come, my child. Tell me,
what are you thinking about?"
She plucked up her courage and decided to break the news. She had her own
plan about the journey but she was too shy to explain it directly.
"You know, Father, two persons look much stronger than just
one." Tobbya began digressing, still afraid to come to the
actual point. "Even a lion, our deadliest enemy, will think
twice before he attacks two people. But," continued the young
girl coming to the point, "but, it is only when the two persons
are men that they look stronger. Nobody is afraid of the fair sex. I
must therefore leave my woman’s garb when I travel with you, and be
dressed like a b . . . b . . . " She was too shy to say the last
word of the sentence. Her father, however, understood her plan and
said, "you mean, dressed like a boy. Don’t you?" Tobbya did
not dare to look at her father’s face. She covered her eyes with both
hands and said in a voice choked with fear and emotion, "Yes,
Father. That is what I mean. Well, I could not think of anything
better, Father." It was now clear to her father that his
daughter was really resolved to go with him. He did not want to
detain her any longer. "Fine," he said at last. "Come
now. Get ready, and let us go. Quick." Tobbya was very happy.
She immediately had her beautiful long curly hair cut in the fashion
of a boy. She put on a boy’s garb and took leave of her mother.
Father and daughter then set out on their long journey.
After many days of traveling Tobbya and her father reached the town which
Wahid had told them would be his first destination. But they did not
know anybody there. They could ask no one about Wahid. They only
wandered around the squares and the market places looking for him;
but it was all in vain. At last they thought that Wahid might have
met the merchant. That merchant, Wahid had told them, carried many
items of trade to and from Egypt. They decided therefore to wait for
the merchant at the main halt at which caravans to Egypt left the
country. If Wahid had met the good man, they believed, they would
find him with the caravan on its trip to or from Egypt. They asked
people to show them the direction of the place. But the road they
followed took them elsewhere; it led them to a place they had never
dreamed of. The path would now take them to the area of Weyna Dega
or land of middle elevation, now to a Qolla or lowland
etc. Finally they came to a very rich Dega or highland. Their
hearts palpitated with happiness as they saw the rich, beautiful
scenery from beyond. It was harvest time. They could see hundreds of
bundles of grain all stacked in piles. Many laborers could also be
seen in the fields reaping and
collecting the crops. Moreover, there were fields tilled with young
crops, and others just being sown with various kinds of seed. It was
a splendid sight that would make one’s hunger fade away even without
tasting food.
Tobbya’s strength revived at the sight of this wonderful scene. Her father was
very happy to see his daughter so strong. She had of course put on an
A’jet’e Bbab (a narrow-sleeved, knee-long, shirt) and a
shannna (a cotton sheet worn by both men and women over their
tight-tailored habits) on which she had slung a piece of sheep skin,
elaborately worked and embroidered at its edges. In this way she
looked like a fine young boy. Her father who was always surprised at
her unfailing strength said: "Oh! my child, not only your dress
but also your strength would convince one that you are a boy!"
Tobbya was indeed very strong: she never complained of the long
Tobbya and her father had already climbed the heights of the Dega and
had just left the low regions of the Qolla. At the edge of the
Dega highlands the felt the cooling effect of a breeze blowing
from the high table-land beyond. They sat down on the ground and
began to admire the fertility and beauty of the place. While thus
contemplating night began to fall upon them. They got up and went to
look for shelter in one of the villages nearby. They intended to
inquire about the road that would take them to the trade station
through which merchants to and from Egypt passed. They planned to
follow that road on the morrow and look for Wahid. With this in mind,
they went to one of the houses in the village nearby and asked to be
allowed to spend the night there.
A woman immediately came out of the house to meet them. She had
evidently been crying before they came and was drying her eyes as she
came out of the house. "Where are you coming from?" she
asked them. "What news have you brought for us?" There was
obviously something troubling the lady very much. She was the owner
of the house. "We have not heard any news arid we came that
way," replied Tobbya’s father pointing in the direction they had
been journeying.
"Please come in and have a rest," answered the good lady. "Your
horse will be kept with ours, and you will spend the night here with
us. As long as we have control of our house God’s guests can freely
accommodate themselves in it. In two or three days’ time, however, we
may not have shelter ourselves. Who knows? The pagans who are forcing
their way into our land might either burn it down or take it for
themselves as if they had built it themselves! Oh! My house, my
property! Oh, my beloved house, I have seen much happiness and
comfort in you. Oh! Oh . . ." Her voice was choked with emotion,
and she again began to cry very bitterly. After some minutes,
however, she realized that she was crying in front of guests who knew
nothing about the cause of her distress. "Do not be afraid, my
friends," she said in a voice full of regret, and drying her
eyes. "You shall know all about it after you have had something
to eat. Besides, it is not good to hasten to hear bad news."
With this she returned to her work.
Tobbya was much frightened at this. She tried to persuade her father to
leave the house and seek shelter somewhere else. In the meantime, at
some distance from them, they saw a man who looked very pensive. He
looked so much immersed in his thoughts that he seemed to have almost
forgotten everything around him. Sitting on a stool, his head buried
between his knees, he was pensively beating the ground with a small
stick. He did not at first notice the arrival of Tobbya and her
father. Later, however, he raised his head, breathed very deeply and
seeing that there were guests at his house, got up and went to meet
them. "I was very much lost in my thoughts! By the way, where
are you coming from, and where are you going?" They explained
the object of their journey. "Oh! my friends. How can you do
that?" he began. "The pagans are coming to invade our land.
How can you travel towards them instead of escaping to your country?
Would that not mean plunging into the burning fire?"
"We do not know anything about what you are saying. What is the matter?
Please tell us the story, sir."
"Oh! You have not heard about it yet! Well, I shall tell you. You know it
is already a year and a half since our country was defeated by the
pagans. Our land has since been destroyed, and our king died of much
grief. We thus lost our king, our leader. We have no leaders now.
With no leaders the soldiers disappear from the scene like a swarm of
bees that has lost its Queen. This news of complete disorganization
has reached the ears of the pagan king. He has therefore mobilized
his forces once again and is coming to invade our country with
thousands of camels carrying his banners. His plan is to convert all
the Christians to his religion and to massacre those who refuse to
accept it. It is said that his men will reach here in two or three
days time. He knows that there is no organized army to defend the
country. He is confident that he can seize the country without
difficulty. His people will simply take possession of our houses and
property as if they were theirs! This is the story, my friends. That
is why my wife has been crying; that is why I was pensive as you saw
Tobbya and her father were shocked at the terrible story. Her father
especially began to cry when he thought that Tobbya, his beloved
daughter who left her mother to accompany him, would fall in the
hands of the pagans. He could not speak a word. He wanted to tell
their host of the part he played in the last war, and of the
suffering he had undergone as a result. But his voice was choked with
emotion and he could not prevent his tears from flowing down his
Their hostess called her husband and asked him to bring the guests in for
supper. She had laid the table beautifully for them with an abundance
of Enjera, or bread, and different dishes of Wet. With
skilled waiters on either side of the table, and lanterns hanging at
every corner, the inside of the house looked like a bride’s house.
It was a large family. There were many servants each doing his
respective task. Some were responsible for the Telia, some for
meat, some for the Wet, and there were others who brought
water for washing the hands and those who carried the lanterns.
Tobbya and her father were very much surprised at this display of
wealth. They could not believe that the lady who was crying only a
moment ago and the man who had told them the terrible story were the
owners of that magnificent household. They were especially surprised
at the number and the orderly activities of the servants serving
supper. It is of course
usual for well-to-do peasants in the country side to look very poor
when you see them out of their houses, at home, however, they become
unexpectedly impressive. For Tobbya and her father however, the case
of their hosts seemed quite extraordinary. Moreover their hosts were
of the type of people who could make guests feel at ease. Tobbya and
her father, who were very much frightened at the sad news only a
moment ago, forgot their worries for the moment at least and ate and
drank happily.
Tobbya and her father were, nonetheless, greatly worried. They were all the
time thinking about the pagan invasion which was expected on the
morrow. Very tired by the long journey as they were, they could not
sleep at all. They spent almost the whole night planning how to
escape from the hands of the enemy.
They woke up very early the next morning and saddled their horse to set
out for the day’s journey. Their hosts gave them enough provisions
for the day, a basket full of Enjera and biscuits, and a horn
full of Tej were prepared for them. They took these with much
gratitude, blessed their hosts, and took leave. But they still did
not know which road to take to escape the enemy. When they came to
the main road they hesitated whither to go on now. They thought of
going back to the Qolla region to avoid being captured by the
enemy; now they thought of another thing. They were thus undecided
when ail of a sudden the horizon became dark with heavy smoke in all
the four corners. The enemy was entering the country, massacring all
those who resisted his advance, capturing women and children, burning
houses and churches, destroying the crops on his way, and cutting
down the trees for fuel and for the construction of temporary huts.
Tobbya’s father was shocked at the intensity of destruction that the enemy was
causing. More than anything else however, it was the sad prospect of
his beloved daughter falling into the hands of these cruel
unbelievers that troubled his heart. He was at once all tears. He
embraced his daughter and said to her, crying: "My dear child,
my beloved daughter. You came out of your mother’s bosom just to
accompany me in this useless journey, and now you are going to fall
into the hands of these merciless pagans. Where can I take you? Where
can I hide you? I could stand and suffer my capture and subsequent
slavery in the last war because I am a man, and eventually my master
could change me for money! But . . . Oh! My dear who will change you
for thousands of dollars even for the most precious treasures of the
world? You are still young and extremely beautiful. The delicacy of
your looks and the sweetness of your manners are such as have never
before been seen in the world. No one who once gets hold of you, my
beloved, will not change you even for all the gold, the diamonds and
the riches of the world. Oh! No …" He cried very bitterly as
he spoke. He had two principal reasons to worry. The first was that
he had heard people say that the enemy was resolved to kill every man
or young boy among the Christians Now since Tobbya was in a boy’s
fashion her father feared that they would immediately take her for a
boy and kill her. Secondly, if the enemy discovered that she was in
fact a girl then she would be lost to him forever and would pass over
to the hands of the enemy! There was nothing he could now do to avoid
one or other of these eventualities. He could only cry like a small
child over these sad prospects.
Tobbya could also see the gravity of the problem. Nevertheless, she was
trying to console her father with nice words though she was herself
weeping at the prospect of losing her father. "Father," she
said to him crying, "God has done wonders, almost a miracle in
rendering it possible for you to be delivered from slavery. He does
not start what he does not intend to accomplish. He will certainly
protect us from all evil or dangers through His usual mercy. Do not
worry, Father. Do you think that Christ does not do miracles more
than once? No, God is never tired. God does not forget. He is always
the same. He does not change. God loves once for all, and never
hates. No, do not worry, Father. Let us leave everything in the hands
of God!" These words which were full of faith consoled her
The smoke of the burning houses and crops came nearer and nearer as the
enemy advanced on his destructive march into the Christian land. But
Tobbya and her father had still not decided where to escape. The
people of the village where they spent the night had already begun
running away at the sight of the approaching destruction. It was a
disturbing sight to observe the exodus of people from that fertile
countryside. The young and strong carried away the old and the weak.
Children who could run on their own were led in front, and babies
were carried by the adults. Everyone ran to some place for
protection. Everyone indiscriminately disappeared into caves, bushes,
or some other place of shelter.
Tobbya and her father finally decided to try to escape somewhere before the
enemy reached them. They readjusted the saddle and galloped off at
full speed. When they came to a large, green field they dismounted
for a moment and let the horse graze. They seized the opportunity to
take some rest for themselves. Soon after, they resumed their flight.
Even the horse seemed to understand the danger that would befall them
and he galloped with much zeal and good will. Even when Tobbya’s
father wanted to give the horse some respite by holding the reins
tightly and thus reducing its speed the horse hastened on.
There was no place, however, where Tobbya and her father could hide from
the destructive forces of the approaching enemy. They were now in the
midst of a large, interminable plain. There were no trees there and
no place to hide. Some distance further on a hill rose sharply from
the midst of the plain. It was small but very high and looked almost
like a pillar standing on a wide, leveled floor. At the top of this
hill there was nothing but piles of rough and sharp pieces of stone.
There were no plants there except one tree whose branches had been
whitened by the droppings of the ravens that inhabited it. The trunk
of this tree formed part of the wall of a ramshackle little hut. This
hill was undoubtedly in sole possession of the black birds that lived
on its top.
When she saw this hill, Tobbya said to her father: "Father, look,
that hill! You know that the invading army is interested only in
places which offer prospects of much spoil. They would therefore
hasten to areas which are fertile and highly populated. Only such
areas offer "prospects
of much food, money and gold. That hill, however, it seems to me, is
inhabited only by birds and no one would in any way try to climb or
overrun it. Let us, therefore, go there and escape from the enemy and
wait until the army passes by." "Oh! yes, my daughter,"
her father agreed. "God bless you, that is a very good idea. Let
us hurry."
They galloped towards the solitary hill. When they reached its foot they
did not know what to do with the horse. It was not the loss of the
animal as a piece of property that troubled them, but parting with
such an understanding animal. But what could they do. It would be
foolish to lose one’s life for the sake of a horse. They regretted
their misfortune, unsaddled the horse, and let it go. "Go
wherever you want," they said, "and may God give you a good
master!" Tobbya and her father then started to climb the hill.
The slopes looked as though no human being had ever got to the top.
There was no trace of any path leading there. Anyway, they forced
their way up and were tired almost to death when they reached the
top. They dried their sweating faces with the ends of their shamma,
took some rest and began looking at the vast plain around their
place of refuge.
The top of the hill commanded a very wide view. From there, one could see
clearly whatever took place in all the four corners of the plain.
Tobbya and her father could now see the approaching army advancing
from the horizon. They began praying: "Oh! God, deliver us from
this destruction." With their hands on their foreheads to
protect their eyes from the sun Tobbya and her father looked and
looked. The army was approaching toward the hill. Tobbya could see
their horse at the foot of the hill. It was waiting for them. It
seemed as if it expected Tobbya and her father to come and ride off,
she thought. She feared that if the enemy saw the horse they would
discover that somebody was hiding at the top of the hill. But she
could do nothing at all, and the advanced guard of the invading army
had already reached the foot of the hill. Their horse disappeared in
the midst of the cavalry of the enemy.
Tobbya and her father were extremely frightened. Their hearts beat in fear,
afraid of being seen from below they lay flat on the ground and only
occasionally did they raise their heads to look at what was going on
below them. Of course, nobody could possibly see them from the plain
even if they were standing up. Even a big elephant with its enormous
body could not be discerned on the top of that hill. Tobbya and her
father, however, were so afraid that they dared not even cough in
fear of being overheard by the people in the plain. The former
Dejazmach, Tobbya"s father, was only afraid for his daughter. He
did not care what happened to him. Indeed, were he alone he would
have wished to take some courageous action worthy of his title and
upbringing. However, as the proverb goes, "A man who spends most
of his time with a woman is almost a woman himself." The
ex-Dejazmach could do nothing but cry like a child over his hard lot.
There was now no one to defend the country against the enemy with its
innumerable hordes. The enemy, on their side took away whatever
pleased their eyes: food, money and gold . . . as much
as their animals could carry; and Tobbya. "They take away the
food of the sons’ of Adam and burn it down, thus reducing their own
king to eventual starvation. They drive the people out of their homes
and burn everything down. Oh! what a cruel world!"
From the top of the hill Tobbya and her father could see whatever
destruction the invading hordes effected on the countryside. The
enemy marched in a big line consisting of innumerable rows of
hundreds of people. When the line reached the foot of the hill it
divided into two columns and marched on either side of the hill. When
it passed the hill the lines joined up again and marched as before.
In the meantime they destroyed all the country through which they
passed. They deprived the people of their property, they took them
prisoner, and killed mercilessly those who resisted their cruelty.
That hill, however, was like an island in the midst of a troubled
sea, and no one cared to look at it. Thousands and thousands of
soldiers passed by. Later in the evening their number gradually
decreased ."I think the army has almost finished passing by,"
said Tobbya to her father. "You see God has saved us from their
cruel hands. We will spend the night here and very early in the
morning we’ll make good our escape in the opposite direction. It is
certain that the army will not march back to the country it has just
plundered. Eh? What do you think father?" As soon as she
finished her sentence something appeared suddenly on the horizon,
something which looked as dark as the clouds of Hamle.5
Tobbya and her father could not at first discern what it was.
Soon after, however, they realized that it was a cloud of dust rising
from the plain as a new group of the invading army advancing towards
them. It was obviously the retinue of the enemy king. This divided
into two and marched on. Tobbya and her father despaired, and all
their hopes went to the winds. They resumed their prayers to God.
The king and his retinue in the meantime approached the
hill. The drums and the trumpets of the royal band could now be
heard. Gradually, even the decorations of silver, gold, and other
precious stones and the colorful uniforms of the king’s followers
could be seen shining under the light of the setting sun. Behind all
this splendor came a small group of people consisting evidently of
the king and a few dignitaries of his court. The king was riding a
mule which was almost crushed under the weight of the gold and the
precious stones that formed part of the royal uniform. An
enormous canopy elaborately worked of silk and gold was held over the
head of the king to protect him from the sun. He was talking to a
select group of people around him as he rode by.
It was now late in the afternoon and the sun had already began to set.
The king’s followers stopped marching. Evidently the king had decided
to camp there. The beat of the drum changed its rhythm to announce
the king’s order. Soon after, a big round white tent was pitched at
the center of the king’s retinue. Many others were at once also
pitched. One of the tents was almost as big as a small hill. It was
made of red cloth and had a huge summit made of gold at its top. On
the side of this golden summit were attached drapings of gold and
silver and small bells alternately placed one after the other. On
this tent was hung a flag bearing the arms of the
king and his army. Tobbya and her father were now sure that this tent
belonged to the king and that the banner on the flag symbolized the
idol which the king and his army worshiped
As soon as the king’s red tent was pitched his soldiers followed suit
and literally filled the vast plain with innumerable tents. The plain
was now covered with the king’s army. This army was so vast that one
could hardly believe that it belonged to only one king. It seemed
that no other army could be strong enough to conquer it. Tobbya and
her father could do nothing but pray; and indeed, let alone to climb
the hill, there was not even one soul who cared to look at the hill.
This gave them much hope as the proverb goes: "When death is
overdue it seems to have never existed at all." They believed
that they would spend the night in peace and resume their flight on
the morrow when the army broke its camp and marched on.
It had always been the custom of the kings to survey the area around
immediately after they have camped at a place. To do this they
usually climb to a high place which gives a wide view of the
surrounding area. Soon after the tents were pitched, therefore, the
enemy king, together with a select group of high dignitaries rode to
the hill where Tobbya and her father were hiding. When he reached the
foot of the hill he dismounted and together with his followers began
to climb the slopes. He had his field glasses with him, and there is
no doubt that his only purpose was to see the surrounding area.
Tobbya and her father were now confused. Where could they escape? What could
they do? Evidently there was nothing they could do to save their
lives. Both believed they would soon die at the hands of the enemy.
said her father, "we are now nearing our end. We will soon part
company. May God protect you, my child. You have suffered all this
for my sake. May God bless you," he cried. But he did not want
to be seen by the enemy crying like a child. So he dried his eyes and
waited for the worse to come.
The king and his small retinue finished climbing the hill, and appeared
at the top on the opposite side. The king was himself the first
person to see Tobbya and her father. "Who are those people?"
he asked. "What are they doing on this deserted hill top?"
With this he went directly towards them.
His followers were extremely angry at the sight of Tobbya and her father.
Indeed they all at once drew their swords and ran towards the poor
creatures to put an end to their lives on the spot. "Leave them
alone, leave them alone," ordered the king. "I saw them
before all of you did and I did not try to kill them. Why then do you
threaten them? These poor creatures are unarmed and defenseless You
do not kill such people. You just capture them. On the other hand, if
you see somebody who is armed and who is out to fight and kill, then
you fight with him. If you kill defenseless people, like these two,
it is no display of valor at all. Even I, young as I am, would not be
interested in killing them. It is only when I am faced with a
courageous and skillful swordsman that I would fight to the last and
kill him. Eh? Perhaps it is only by killing such defenseless people
that our soldiers have established their names! Well, we shall make
a new proclamation to avoid such cowardly acts. Now, leave these
Kafirs alone; they are our personal captives.
The king spoke in a low voice and Tobbya and her father did not hear a
word. They did not understand whether the discussion was favorable
Her father, however, stood courageously in front of the king and his
followers and looked them straight into their eyes like a man worthy
of his previous title and background. His whole body, however, shook
at the movements of Tobbya who held him tightly with both hands. Now
and then he put his hands behind him to encourage and console his
When the king observed the fears of Tobbya he began, pagan as he was, to
feel sympathy towards the poor child. He approached her father and
said, "You infidels, why did you come to this solitary hill?"
"We came here to escape the devastations of the war," answered her
At this juncture the king’s jester came forward and began to make fun of
Tobbya and her father. He was an extremely ugly creature. Very small
in stature, he was extremely thin and looked more like a living
skeleton than a complete human being. Specially when he tried to
laugh he looked much uglier than the monkeys of Chiloda. "You
know, these Kaffirs believe," the jester told the king, "that
their God lives in the sky. So they have climbed this hill to be
nearer to him that he may quickly send his help and save them from
our hands!" Then he turned to the captives and said, "Now,
where is your God? Why doesn’t he come now and save you from our
Tobbya’s father could not stand the jester’s impertinence. He was greatly
enraged when he heard that ugly little fellow make fun of the name of
God! "The God of the Christians," he said courageously
"this God at whom you are laughing has no limits to His power.
He transcends the heights of the mountains, the vastness of the
plains, the infinity of space, the depths of the oceans, heat or
cold, light or darkness. All these elements cannot destroy His mercy
or His wrath. He is free of the factors of space and time. Everything
that is shall exist or cease to exist according to His will. All are
almost nothing in front of God. All are equal in front of Him; the
strong the weak, the courageous, the cowardly, the rich, the poor,
the ruler and his subjects, all are equal for him. In this world
those who believe in Him and those who do not shall both live
equally; they are born, they grow, they become old and die. In the
world to come, however, all shall be judged by Him according to their
deeds on earth. And now myself and my little son shall believe in Him
until we die. Even if we die now, even if you kill us on the spot, we
know it is because of our human weaknesses and not because Christ is
incapable of saving us from death!"
It was the custom of the kings in the past to keep a dwarf at their
court, and in the midst of the king’s followers, therefore, there was
an extremely small creature accompanying the jester. He was so small
in stature that one could hardly see him except when he spoke. As
soon as Tobbya’s father finished what he had to say, this little
creature took up one of the sentences out of context and began to
play on words, "Eh? So you say all are equal? all are almost
nothing, then how would you classify me? Logically it means that I do
exist, or that I am equal with this ugly jester. According to this
Kafir 1 am either equal to that tree or I do not exist at all!"
At this the king and his followers laughed. Even Tobbya, though she
was still shivering with fear behind her father, could not help
smiling at this funny creature.
The king interrupted his followers and said, "Well, God created the
world by his own will and he rules the people of the world according
to their respective religions. He listens to the prayers of all
peoples in their various languages. He judges them according to their
faiths and deeds. Man, however, has always believed that his religion
was the only possible truth! No, my friends, no, don’t make fun of
the religion of others. It is only God who knows the truth.
Moreover," he added with some hesitation and much thought, "Who
among us really knows if Christianity is not a better religion?"
Everyone among his followers was greatly surprised at this rather
unexpected pronouncement of the king.
Tobbya and her father did not know that it was the king himself who spoke
these favorable words. They never suspected that the apparently
easy-going and unassuming young man was the king of that big army.
He was the youngest of all his followers. While all the others were in
their bright-colored uniforms with glistening decorations he was very
modestly dressed like an ordinary person. But all his words were good
and calculated: "Oh! If only the king himself were as kind as
this young man!" they thought. "It is better for us to be
captured by these rather kindly people than by others!"
They thought that the king was then in his royal tent. They never
suspected it was the king himself who, followed by some of his
followers, had climbed the hill on which they had been hiding.
It was beginning to be dark. "Bring my field-glasses," ordered
the king. "Night is falling before we survey the country."
He began looking around in all directions, and it was clear from his
looks he was very much satisfied with the orderly way in which his
army had camped in the vast plain below. The plain was extremely wide
and one could hardly see its ends even from the hill-top. Except for
this hill on which Tobbya and her father had been hiding, the plain
was almost level from one end to another. The king’s army had
occupied almost the whole surface of this endless plain. One could
not, for example, see the limits of the camp from the center even
with field glasses. It was a large army in a vast field. Moreover
when night began to fall, the small white tents of the camp looked
like the stars in the blue sky above.
"Oh! It is late my friends, let us go back to our camp," said the
king to his followers. Before he set out, however, he approached
Tobbya and her father, "You Kafirs, follow us to the camp. Don’t
be afraid. If you want to live with us we shall make you comfortable.
If, on the other hand, you want to remain here in your country we
shall let you go when the war is over. If we let you go now our
soldiers will find you on the way and destroy you." Tobbya’s
father was extremely happy to hear that. He now hoped once again that
nothing would happen to his daughter. In the meantime, though he
could not suspect that the young man who addressed them was the king
himself, he began to believe that he was the most important man among
the group who had climbed the hill with him. He believed that the
young man was at most the son of the king or of another dignitary of
the court. With this in mind Tobbya’s father said to the young man,
"My Lord, you have seen how my son and myself were shivering
with fear when we first saw you here. I don’t care what happens to
me. My only fear and great concern has been for the life of this
little child of mine. But now you have yourself been so kind as to
encourage us. We are very grateful for this, my lord. Our life will
finally depend, however, on the word of the king himself, and we beg
you to intercede for us in front of him when we go to the camp."
At this the king signaled to his followers not to reveal his identity
and replied to Tobbya’s father, "Well, that is fine. I shall beg
His Majesty to spare your lives and pardon you."
As soon as they reached the camp the king ordered his chief Aide-de-camp
to give a tent to Tobbya and her father near the royal tent and to
look after them very carefully. This order was executed to the
letter; and they were given very good accommodation and all their
needs were carefully provided. Tobbya and her father were greatly
surprised at this strange happening, "Could the young man be the
king himself?" they thought. But he seemed too young for that,
he had barely passed his twentieth year. Moreover he was very
modestly dressed when they saw him. Otherwise he had all the
characteristics of a prince, he had an agreeable character, his words
were very pleasant and precise, his manners were . highly refined,
and his looks extremely handsome. Though he was a pagan and a very
young man, he had all the majestic airs of royalty. Only his uniform
belied his high position. It had always been the custom of kings and
princes to refrain from the personal use of colorful uniforms and
precious decorations. All these things are too much below their
dignity. For them their illustrious birth and cultural refinement
suffice to indicate their pre-eminence. They only delight in
decorating their soldiers for their valor, in building magnificent
palaces and furnishing them beautifully, in providing their horses
and mules with elaborately worked harnesses, in developing their
countries, in rendering justice to their subjects, and in granting
pardon to their subjects. They know very well that decorating
themselves with silver, gold, diamonds and other precious stones
would not bring any difference to their already high positions.
Indeed, it is only people of very mean extraction and humble
professions like the Azmari or minstrel and the king’s jester
that need such external embellishments. Besides, even asses or stupid
fools can look at least presentable if loaded with shining
decorations however unmerited. But, as the saying goes, a lion with
his modest and majestic airs looks much smarter than an elephant with
his awkward tusks. Therefore, regardless of the modesty of his
clothes the other day, regardless of his youth, Tobbya and her father
were in due course strongly convinced that the young man who was so
kind to them was the king himself. It was a strange coincidence that
they had fallen into no other hands but those of the king. This must
have been the work of God and they thanked God for his mercy.
On the morrow, before the camp was broken, the king saw Tobbya and her
father nearby as he came out of his royal
tent. He approached them smiling and said. "Do not fear. Nothing
will happen to you. I have told the king about you!" Tobbya and
her father were very happy and bowed very low. They pretended that
they still did not know that he was the king himself. But the young
prince turned around and ordered his Aide-de-camp to provide them
with two fine horses and to let them ride together with his personal
retinue so that the crowd would not molest them. This order was soon
followed and the two captives rode on two very fine horses only some
yards behind the king. They were now quite certain that their lives
were no more endangered; on the other hand, now that they felt quite
secure themselves, they began to think of Wahid.
At about noon the army began to camp. The king’s royal tent was pitched
as usual in a central position and the area around was immediately
covered by numerous tents. The king’s warriors were coming from every
direction with all their spoils of the day. Chanting their war songs
as they took their respective places in the camp. Just in front of
the royal tent the king sat majestically on his golden throne. Round
him were also seated the most dignified members of his court. To the
left and right of the throne stood very tall slaves with drawn swords
in their muscular hands. Some yards behind these stood a squad of the
royal guards consisting of five thousand soldiers. The soldiers had
now stopped chanting their songs. Nothing of the usual hustle and
bustle was heard. Silence reigned everywhere. Even the king was
silently waiting for his soldiers to display their spoils of the day
before him. It was a magnificent sight. Thousands of warriors in
orderly ranks silently standing around the throne with all their arms
and colorful uniforms and decorations, and in the midst of all this
glory the young, dark-complexioned, but very handsome king sitting on
his golden throne with all his oriental splendor, the whole setting
inspiring a maximum of fear and respect. For Tobbya and her father
the scene compared with the Last Judgment of the New Testament.
After everything was in order, thousands of warriors passed by the throne
displaying their trophies, dancing and reciting tukkera or war
poems. The young king was smiling with much satisfaction. For poor
little Tobbya, however, it was an unbearable scene. All this joy and
happiness at the court of the enemy meant the destruction of
thousands of her fellow Christians. It also meant without doubt that
paganism would prosper in the country. This saddened her heart and
she wept behind her father’s shamma. The King saw Tobbya from
his throne and knew that she did not enjoy the scene. He understood
her feelings very well. He suddenly left his throne, and entered into
the royal tent interrupting the procession without any explanations.
The young king had lost his parents while still a child. Besides, he had
no brothers or sisters. It was his uncle who had brought him up with
his own daughter who was of exactly the same age as the king. The
king loved her like his own sister. His cousin loved him too. Indeed
they called each other "Sister" and "Brother".
Their love for each other was so great that he would not leave her
behind even in time of war, and her tent was always next to his.
The main royal tents were five in number; two of them belonged to the
king, the third to his cousin, the fourth to his uncle and guardian,
the fifth tent was reserved for royal guests. Between each of these
tents there was a fence made of shammas so that the entrance
of one tent could not be seen from that of another. Around all this
at some distance was a circular fence of qimja or red cloth.
Within this fence, and immediately next to the royal tents was a
pleasant, small tent assigned to Tobbya and her father. They placed
them there so that the ordinary soldiers outside might not molest
them. Immediately outside the red shamma fence were located
the most important parts of the royal household: the treasury, the
storehouse, the kitchen, and the quarters where tej was
prepared and stored. All around these important places was stationed
a squad of the royal guards consisting of the most able-bodied and
strongest soldiers about 5,000 in number, armed to the teeth with
brilliant weapons embellished with gold and silver. Next to these was
a mounted company of the royal guard consisting of about 100,000
cavalry. Beyond these began the camp of the ordinary soldiers and
their commanders arranged in various divisions.
No one was allowed to approach the qimja fence. The guards
prevented anyone from speaking or making a noise near it. After
sunset, therefore, not a soul would be seen there nor any sound heard
except the drapings of the royal tent moving to and fro at every
stroke of the wind.
The king, it had been announced, was giving a banquet that evening. The
royal household was therefore in the usual hustle and bustle.
Numerous servants were running here and there with various
assignments for the preparation of the banquet. Some time before the
banquet started, the king went out of his tent for a walk. In the
meantime, however, he saw Tobbya sitting with her father at the
entrance of their tent. She had buried her head on her father’s knees
with her eyes fixed on the ground. The moment he saw her, the king
thought that she was crying again and. he approached their tent to
try to console the small child. When they saw him coming toward them,
Tobbya and her father stood up from their seats. "Would you like
me to present you to the king? Would you like to see his face?"
he asked them.
"No. sire. We do not want to see the face of any other king except yours,"
answered Tobbya’s father very quickly. The king understood that they
now recognized him, and added directly, "Well, you don’t want
any other king except me, trust me. I shall not forsake you."
With this he went back to his tent.
It was some time since Tobbya and her father had understood that he was
himself the king. The young king, however, had not yet realized that
Tobbya was a girl and not a handsome little boy as her dress would
make everyone believe.
On the morrow, the king ordered that the army should take a rest for a
day. He himself spent the whole day contemplating how to make an end
to the campaign and how to administer the people as a whole.
He was very much affected by Tobbya’s sorrow at the moment when his
warriors were displaying their spoils. He decided to bring the whole
campaign to an end so that the lives of thousands of innocent people
might be saved, and the whole country spared from destruction.

this effect he decided to make a proclamation. At first the king’s
Chief Herald went up to higher ground stood on a stone, and made the
announcement. The announcement was, as usual, proceeded by the
following words:
Hear! May God deprive the king’s enemy, the enemy of our Lord, and
the enemy of our country, of the sense of hearing!" Then
followed the actual proclamation:—
"O you Christians! There has always been war between us and you either
because of the difference of our religion, or because of border
problems. Thousands of our people on both sides have lost their lives
in these wars. The reason behind all this destruction has always
been, however, the misunderstanding and; the sharp sense of
competition that existed between our respective kings. The ordinary
people had very little part in initiating these conflicts, but they
have always been those who suffered most. Had there been goodwill and
mutual understanding between the kings the lives of so many innocent
people could have been saved. Our respective peoples could have
respected the borders and lived in their own countries according to
their religions. I myself have been a victim of this legacy of
conflict and warfare. In the last few months I destroyed the lives of
thousands and devastated your country. I now regret this senseless
manslaughter and general destruction I have caused so far. It has now
become clear to me that you have no king or army to defend you. I
feel very sorry to have destroyed a defenseless people. From today
on, therefore, all hostilities shall be discontinued. Those who have
left their homes because of the war, those who have killed or robbed
others during the war, may return to their respective places and live
in peace. I have hereby granted a general amnesty to all those who
have fought against me in the period of hostilities. Let everyone
live according to his own religion. We have had enough of the old
religious conflicts and all must respect each other’s religion. No
one will be allowed to laugh at or make fun of, another man’s
religion. Though I am not a Christian myself, it is my sacred duty to
rule everyone equally irrespective of his religion. Therefore all of
you must live in peace and resume your old professions: the merchant
may now resume his commercial activities, the farmer, his
agricultural duties, and the clergy, their religious services.
"May all of you understand that I have come not to destroy but to build a
nation. From today on you are all my subjects, and will always be
ruled with justice and respect. Everyone must in turn recognize me as
their King. Those who have fled away may now return to their previous
houses and properties. As compensation for the damage that the war
has brought on you no taxes shall be levied on you for two years.
"If there are any members of the Royal Family living, they may return to
their old possessions and governorates together with all the Princes,
high-ranking, officials, and other followers. Similarly all the Rases, the Dejazmatches and other
dignitaries may return to their respective offices and resume their
duties in peace according to the customs and the law of their nation.
Should there be anyone after this proclamation, however, who refuses
to return home and continues to disturb the peace by molesting my
people and my kingdom he shall be outlawed for ever and shall be
hunted down as the enemy of the kingdom and the people.
"The peasants and the soldiers must always live in mutual respect. The
soldier should not mishandle the peasants. Both of you serve me
equally in your respective fields of activity: While the soldier
follows me with his arms in times of war, it is the peasant who tills
the earth and provides all of us with food. Everyone renders his
services equally to the king and to the people at large." As the
royal announcer finished reading the proclamation everyone shouted
"Well done, well done!" and expressed their satisfaction
with prolonged applause.
After the proclamation the campaign was discontinued and the king began
building a new capital city at the camp. The king saw Tobbya and her
father every day, and gradually came to like her very much. Now that
she was living with much comfort at the king’s palace and was no more
exposed to the difficulties of a long journey, Tobbya was regaining
her real self and grew more and more beautiful everyday. Though she
politely kept herself at a distance from the king in fear of being
discovered, the king liked her more and more everyday and called her
to his presence now and then. Her father was himself worried at this
growing familiarity. "Courage, my child," he encouraged
her, "try to speak, and walk, and act like a boy. Try your best
to keep your identity disguised. You can do it." Tobbya was
always dressed like a boy and no one suspected her true sex. But
everyone who saw her was at once bewitched by her beauty. Everyone at
the court liked Tobbya.
Tobbya was indeed very beautiful. Her big eyes could compare with the
morning star for brightness. Her eyelashes grew abundantly on her
eyelids. Her nose was aquiline, and her lips looked like roses in the
morning. She had her hair cut in a boy’s fashion, but the luxuriant
growth thereof looked like that of the wheat fields in Sene.6
Since she was no more exposed to heat and cold, nor to hunger and
thirst as during her long journey with her father, her sun-burnt face
recovered its original color, and her beauty seemed to betray her
true sex. Tobbya was of medium stature such as would become a perfect
lady. Her fingers were as smooth and tender as Amelmalo.7
Her elegance that of a queen. Her legs were of perfect formation.
Her snow white teeth and her sweet smile would satisfy any man. In
short, her beauty was such as would make one believe that God must
have taken special pains in creating her. Indeed, even apart from her
physical characteristics Tobbya looked like an angel as regards both
her heavenly beauty and her sweet personality.
"Even angels fall in love with the beautiful!" says an old proverb.
When the young king saw the perfect beauty that God had bestowed upon
Tobbya he liked her very much and decided to make her one of his
personal followers in his court. He wanted her to grow in the milieu
of high life at the palace. He never suspected, however, that she was
actually a girl. His love was only an
innocent admiration for the extraordinary qualities of the young boy
that Tobbya pretended to be. Moreover the king was about the same age
as Tobbya: She was 18 years old, he was hardly 20. This similarity of
youth intensified the king’s special concern for Tobbya.
The king hesitated at first. Finally he decided to tell Tobbya and her
father of his plans for the young boy. One day they were suddenly
called to the king’s presence. They were specially worried about
Tobbya’s identity. "Could the king have discovered the true sex
of Tobbya?" they thought. For Tobbya the prospect of such a
discovery was unbearable. She couldn’t even walk normally. Her
studied manners of a young boy were all forgotten. But the king did
not suspect anything at all. Indeed as soon as they came to his
presence he quietly ordered all his servants to leave him alone with
Tobbya and her father and spoke to them in strict privacy. He looked
at Tobbya at first and said. "Listen young boy. Wouldn’t you
like to live with me? Wouldn’t you like me to make you one of my
intimate courtiers, to bring you up in my court, and confer upon you
honorable officers and and illustrious decorations?" Tobbya was
either afraid or very shy. She said nothing. She left the decision
for her father. The king was, however, staring at Tobbya all the time
as if expecting the answer from her. The tense situation was however
broken by her father who began to reply to the king’s question. The
king turned his face to Tobbya’s father and began to listen
attentively .At the opportune moment Tobbya turned her face towards
her father and began winking at him and shaking her head to suggest
to him that he should refuse the king’s offer.
"Your Majesty," began her father, "it is a special honor to be
one of your intimate courtiers and to live in your palace. My son and
myself are very grateful to you for this kind offer and for having
given us this unmerited attention. May your kingdom spread throughout
the world. May your kindness to your people remain unchanged. My son,
however, is not used to the manners and decorum of royal life. He is
from a humble private family. Excuse me your Majesty. I cannot accept
this offer.
"Your Majesty has given us your word of honor that you would send us back
to our home once the war is finished. Please send us back to our
country according to your promise. That is our wish."
The king seemed to regret the fact that he had not fulfilled his promise.
"My word of honor shall not be changed," he assured them.
"I shall certainly send you back to your home if you want. I
would, however, like to ask you something. Why do you hate living
with me? Is it because we are not of the same religion? If that is
the case you know very well that I have made a proclamation to the
effect that every one should live according to his religion. Do you
have any other reason? Why are you afraid to stay with me? Tell me
everything openly." When Tobbya’s father heard these kind words
from this young king he decided to tell him everything, every secret
he had so far kept between him and his child. ""Your
Majesty," he started, "it is only my wife who is staying at
home and it is very long since this young boy and myself left home.
We first left our place in search of my elder son who set out on a
journey last year to look for a man who had been very kind to us. We
could find no trace of him at all. In the meantime your Majesty’s
army came pillaging and destroying the country. We just wanted to
turn back and escape to our country, but it was too late. Then we
decided to hide on that solitary hill in the hope that none of your
soldiers would be climbing it. It was there where by divine
coincidence, we were met by Your Majesty and made your captives."
Tobbya’s father had now decided to tell the young king everything in
his heart and even the identity of his child. "This … This"
he started.8 At this juncture Tobbya was very angry with
him. She looked at him with much anxiety and struck her lips with the
tip of her hand indicating that he should not make such a blunder at
that moment. Her father understood her worries and immediately
changed the subject of his discourse. "This world, Your Majesty,
is not becoming to the poor and the helpless. We have been lamenting
the loss of my elder son, for a whole year. This small child cannot
therefore forget his beloved brother and remain here at Your
Majesty’s palace for the sake of comfort and the pleasures of court
life. No, Your Majesty he cannot remain here," he concluded.
Tobbya was relieved when she saw that her father changed the subject
and did not reveal her identity to the king. She was very much
concerned because she had heard that all pagans had a mania for
possessing every woman they happened to come across. She was
therefore worried that once the king knew her real sex he would
simply take her as his wife. Moreover, she did not see the wisdom of
telling one’s secrets to a stranger however kind and trustworthy.
When the king heard the story of Wahid he looked very much concerned. He
asked Tobbya’s father many questions. "When did he leave for his
journey? Which direction did he say he would take?
"It is exactly one year ago that he left us. He wanted to go to the
commercial center at the border of the country where caravans to
Sennar and Egypt passed on their journey to and from our country. He
is of the same age of Tobbya. Both are now between 17 and 18 years
old." "Then they are twins, aren’t they?" asked the
"Oh! yes. Indeed one is a perfect copy of the other. They look like each
other so much that it was difficult even for myself and my wife to
distinguish the one from the other."
"If he left a year ago," said the king, "it is quite impossible
that my soldiers have met him. In that case it would have been easy
for me to get him. I am afraid that he might have been met by some
slave traders and sold into slavery." Then he thought for some
time and said. "Anyhow, if the boy is still alive I will get him
for you. Do not worry I shall get him for you. But it will take some
time. Both of you must stay with me in the meantime. Tobbya shall be
one of my intimate courtiers. He shall be one of those very few who
have freedom of movement even within my private quarters. And you
shall be counted among the members of the nobility. You must
always attend all our state and special
occasions. You are henceforth to participate at all the banquets
given by me every day."
Tobbya and her father could say nothing at that moment. If they refused the
king’s offer it would almost certainly mean that Wahid would be lost
for ever. Even for themselves it was not advisable to quarrel with a
king. He could do anything with them if he liked. While they were
thus debating within themselves the king got up. "Think it
over," he said to them, "and tell me your wish sometime
later." With this he left his palace and went for a horse race.
Tobbya and her father were left alone. They could now discuss freely between
themselves. "My child," he started, "you know it is
much better for us to stay with the king in order to find Wahid. I am
only afraid that the king and his followers might discover your
identity. Otherwise it is not good to refuse the offers of such a
king. After all he is a king of the pagans who are famous for their
cruelty and ungodliness. If we do not accept his suggestion we shall
never get Wahid, nor do I know what kind of misfortune will happen to
us." "Father," said Tobbya, "how long can I live
with my false identity? How long can I stay with men and act like a
boy? If we stay here for long my identity will be discovered and the
danger is still worse. I am worried about that, Father. But what can
I do? If it means my brother’s return I must try my best. I shall
accept the king’s offer and live with his intimate courtiers. May Our
Lady help me in disguising my identity.
Well, if you are determined to try your best you must always be careful to
act exactly like a boy."
soon as the king returned from the horse race he asked them their
decision. They told him that they would humbly accept his offer.
When he saw that Tobbya and her father had confidence in him the king gave
them enough property to live on. He gave them a big tent to stay in,
a mare and a horse to ride on, many slaves and servants, and much
gold and silver. Tobbya and her father had therefore a complete
household all at once. Their tent was pitched within the royal living
quarters, i.e. within the red-cloth fence. Tobbya was made one of the
most intimate followers of the king. Her father was endowed with high
honors and illustrious decorations and made one of the most
respected courtiers.
On the morrow the king made the following proclamation: "Any one
who bought any slaves within the last year shall bring them to me as
soon as this proclamation comes to his knowledge. I am looking for a
person lost since last year. The man among whose slaves this person
may be found shall be compensated with ten times the amount he spent
on the purchase thereof and with other special rewards." This
proclamation was announced at every corner of the country and in all
the squares and other important centers of the cities and towns.
Since the kingdom was very large, however, no one came with his
slaves for about five or six months. In the meantime Tobbya and her
father lived at the king’s palace according to his order.
The king’s admiration for Tobbya grew every day. Not only her beauty but
also her excellent personality and refined manners made her very dear
to everybody. The king’s uncle and guardian, and his daughter also
liked Tobbya very much.
The king’s cousin was especially attached to Tobbya the young handsome
boy at the king’s palace. She always stared at Tobbya wherever she
saw him. She spoke of nothing else but Tobbya. The king soon
discovered that his cousin was in love with Tobbya. He once tried to
find out how much she loved Tobbya, and asked her "Sister, would
you like your future husband to be as handsome as Tobbya?" His
cousin liked the king very much and there were no secrets they did
not share. She was therefore quite free with him and told him frankly
that she was in love with Tobbya; she only did not want her old
father to know that she loved a Christian. Indeed she used to tell
the king that neither in his place nor anywhere else had she seen or
heard of such an extraordinarily handsome and cultured young man as
Tobbya "Tobbya is a very sweet young man. If only he were not a
Kafir]" The king understood his cousin’s feelings. He
also had the same respect and admiration for Tobbya. His cousin’s
love to Tobbya, however, intensified every day. Day in and day out
she did nothing else but think and dream of Tobbya. In their private
conversations she spoke to the king of nothing else but Tobbya. This
she did in the hope that he would one day make it possible for her to
marry Tobbya! What ignorance! The poor little girl did not know that
Tobbya was also a girl disguised in a boy’s dress!
The king did not mind his cousin loving Tobbya. Indeed he would have
liked her to marry the young boy. He only feared that his uncle and
guardian would not give his daughter to a Christian. Neither would
Tobbya like to marry anybody but a Christian.
Tobbya did not know all this. She spent the whole day in the presence of the
king and returned to her father in the evening.
"My child is everything well?" her father would ask her when she
returned to him. "Yes, father. Thank God there is nothing wrong
as yet! The king, his uncle and cousin all seem to like me,"
Tobbya would answer. When she left for the king’s tent in the
mornings her father would always say "May the God of the
Christians protect you, my child," Thus Tobbya and her father
lived very well for a long time.
Tobbya and the king’s cousin became more and more familiar as time went by.
The king’s cousin began speaking to Tobbya directly. Tobbya herself
was also very willing to talk to the king’s cousin. In her disguised
state Tobbya considered it a relief to speak with a girl, therefore
spoke more freely and willingly with the princess than with the king
himself or his courtiers. This surprised the king and gave the
impression to the princess that the young boy, Tobbya was beginning
to reciprocate her love. Gradually Tobbya’s familiarity with both the
king and his cousin grew to such an extent that it began to inspire
jealousy in the hearts of the other members of the king’s court. How
can such an upstart, and a Kafir be more influential than us;
everybody in the court began to say. They began to complain and
grumble everyday and decided finally to ruin Tobbya’s name and career
in the king’s court by creating a false story.
Tobbya’s growing familiarity with the king’s cousin provided them with a
wonderful theme to play upon. The king’s jester, whom I had an
occasion to describe before, that tiny piece of a human being, played
the most
notorious part in the nasty game. Immediately after lunch the king
had the habit of sleeping for sometime. At that time everything
within and around the palace was silent and quiet. Tobbya’s enemies
decided to use this period for their scandalous purpose. They plotted
to send Tobbya to the tent of the king’s cousin and in the meantime
to inform her father that the young boy was having privacy with the
One day, soon after the king went to bed for his usual siesta, the king’s
jester came to Tobbya and told her that the king’s cousin was
urgently looking for her. Tobbya never suspected that the jester was
trying to ruin her name and went immediately to the tent of the
king’s cousin. No sooner had she entered the tent than the king’s
uncle himself came in followed by his men. He was almost mad with
anger when he saw the young boy, Tobbya, in his daughter’s tent at
that hour of the day. He had been told by Tobbya’s enemies that the
young Kafir was having dishonorable relations with the
Princess and now he had caught him almost red-handed. He was furious.
The news of Tobbya’s "dishonorable conduct" was soon spread in
the palace among all the courtiers and the servants of the king. The
rumor ran that Tobbya, the king’s new favorite, the young Kafir
boy, was caught in the Princess’ tent having infamous relations
with the king’s cousin. The news also reached the king himself, but
he did not believe it. Soon after, however, his uncle came to his
presence, and gave him an ultimatum. "Your Majesty, either you
punish this disrespectful young Kafir, or I shall die." The king
began to reason with his uncle and said "My Lord, how can
Tobbya. that gentle and well-mannered boy, do such a thing? How? His
uncle persisted "But your Majesty I have myself caught him in my
daughter’s tent. He must be severely punished," he insisted. "I
shall call Tobbya himself" the king promised, "and examine
him to find out if he has really done it. If the story is true I
shall send him away with his father to their own place. 1 cannot,
however, have them punished because I have first given them my word
of honor that nothing bad would befall them if they stayed with me."
He asked Tobbya to be brought to his presence and asked her: "Tell
me, why did you go to my sister’s tent today? Why?" Tobbya knew
very well that she was innocent of the guilt she was charged with.
But she was afraid that her identity might be revealed during the
cross examination. She could not answer the king’s question. She was
quaking with fear suppressed.
But anybody could tell her innocence and reliability from the look of her
face. However, she did not know what to say to the king. To reveal
the truth that she was called by the Princess would not be good for
the name and honor of the king’s cousin. She therefore preferred to
keep silent. The king was much troubled at this. "Why don’t you
answer my question?" he asked her with much concern. "How
could you do such a thing to my cousin. I have always counted on your
gentle manners and refinement, and I had prepared great plans for
your future. How could you do such a dishonorable act?"
At this Tobbya’s father came suddenly and said. "Your Majesty my
son can never do such a childish thing. Never. Believe me, Your
Majesty!" When he heard this the king’s uncle was very angry.
"Your Majesty, I have told you that I myself caught the boy
almost red-handed, and here is his father telling me to my face that
I was lying to you!" Tobbya was looking at the ground all the
time and quaking with fear. When she saw a dangerous scene developing
between her father and the king’s uncle she raised her head and
addressed the king: "Your Majesty, I have never deserved to be
one of your courtiers. I have always lived a very humble life and
have never been used to the intricacies and pageantry of court life.
I had mentioned this to you from the very beginning. But your Majesty
has showered upon me all these unmerited honors of attending upon
you. My conduct and manners have not changed since. If, however, you
are convinced of the guilt I am charged with, punish me, if not,
pardon me. But Your Majesty, please do not let my father suffer
anything because of my mistakes. Please do not abandon your idea of
finding my brother for us. Your Majesty, do not let my brother
disappear for ever because of these unfounded suspicions of
misconduct on my part."
"Well," answered the king, "that is a different thing now. But tell me,
why did you enter my sister’s tent?" Tobbya did not wish"
to disgrace anybody. She said nothing. The king was much troubled. He
could not believe the story because every word that Tobbya pronounced
was full of truth. On the other hand, he could not totally disprove
the story because Tobbya refused to answer his question. The matter
was getting very serious because of Tobbya’s unwillingness to
cooperate. Her father saw that things were getting out of hand and
began to despair. He thought that Tobbya would be punished severely
for no fault of hers ; that his son would be lost to him for ever,
and that he himself would be disgraced and driven out of the king’s
palace. The only way out of all this trouble was to show to the king
that the allegations against Tobbya were false and totally
impossible. This could only be done by revealing to the king the
secret of Tobbya’s identity. He therefore asked the king for a
private audience. Everyone else was ordered out of the king’s
reception hall. The king, Tobbya, and her father were left alone.
Your Majesty," Tobbya’s father began, " it has always been
possible that many innocent souls have been punished for no fault of
theirs because of insufficiency of proof. Even you, Your Majesty,
merciful, kind, and wise as you are, you are nevertheless a human
being. You cannot penetrate into a person’s heart and soul to find
out whether it is really innocent or not. You are always bound to
believe the reports of your courtiers. This scandal cannot be cleared
unless I openly tell you the ins and outs of the story. But, Your
Majesty, you must first give me your word of honor that the secret
will be kept between the three of us." When the king promised
that he would keep the secret, Tobbya’s father told him their story
from the very beginning, including the true identity of his child.
The king was sorry for Tobbya. He was also amazed at the story. He
admired her courage at being disguised as a boy to accompany her
father in his long search for the lost brother. Her unwillingness to
disgrace her enemies even at the risk of her name and honor was also
equally marvelous Though he pitied her for the difficulties she had
undergone in the past, the king was much
pleased to know that she was a girl. So far he liked Tobbya only as a
young handsome and well mannered boy. Later however, when he knew her
identity his admiration was changed into real love and he began to
have high expectations. His heart began to beat fast whenever he
thought of Tobbya. His whole body began to tremble at every sight of
the beautiful young girl. But he was very careful not to show it to
anybody, above all to his uncle and his cousin. He would have liked
to punish and disgrace his courtiers who were responsible for the
false story, but no formal disproof of the allegations could be made
without betraying the the secret he had promised to keep.
Finally the king decided to give a false impression to his uncle and his
courtiers that he was convinced by the allegations. He therefore
ordered Tobbya to be deprived of all the honors and decorations
bestowed upon her, to be dismissed from service, and to live
henceforth with her father in the same conditions in which they were
living before she entered the king’s service. He called Tobbya and
her father, however, and told them of his real motives. He gave them
much gold and property in private, advised Tobbya to stay in the tent
all the time, ordered her father to show up at the palace only once
every day, and sent them to live on their own. Their tent was
pitched, however, just opposite to that of the king at his own
instructions. So that he could at least be able to look at Tobbya
through his field glasses every now and then.
The king’s uncle and Tobbya’s enemies were very happy to see the young
boy dismissed from the king’s service just as they wanted. His
cousin, however, was shocked when she heard that Tobbya was no longer
in the king’s service. She was extremely sorry at "his"
dismissal. She wept and wept all day long and could neither eat nor
drink. The king was very sorry for her not only because she could no
more see her love every day, but also because he knew that her love
was useless. He could not tell her the secret because of the word of
honor he had given to Tobbya’s father.
Many days passed since Tobbya left the king’s service and her enemies were
exulted at the success of their plot. But the king knew everything.
He only waited silently for the right time to punish his dishonest
servants. Tobbya, on the other hand, did not have any grudges against
any one. She never cared for honors or for the king’s service. She
was only looking for the day when her brother Wahid would be found.
Her only hope was that her father, Wahid, and herself would one day
meet and go back to her mother in happiness.
The king was doing his best to please Tobbya in private. He urged his
representatives and the governors in every corner of his kingdom to
send all slaves acquired within the previous year to his palace. The
king’s proclamation was now heard everywhere and people began to come
to the king’s palace with their newly acquired slaves. The king had
proclaimed that he would give to the owner of the man he was looking
for ten times the amount of money he had spent on his purchase and
some other special gifts besides. This caused everyone to bring their
slaves to the presence of the king.
The king was very happy when he saw thousands of his subjects coming to
him with their slaves. He called Tobbya’s father in private and told
him to look for
Wahid among the troop of slaves that would pass by their tent. He then
ordered that the people should march with their slaves by the tent of
Tobbya and her father. On the morrow, thousands and thousands of
slaves marched by the tent. Tobbya and her father watched with
patience from dawn to sun-set. Wahid was not among those slaves that
passed by all day long. They started to despair when night began to
fall. When it was too dark to see the king ordered that the remaining
part of the crowd would march on the next day. The king watched
Tobbya and her father through his field glasses all day long to see
if they had found Wahid. He was greatly disappointed to know that the
boy was not found on that day. Tobbya and her father could not sleep.
They spent the whole night weeping at their misfortune. It was the
same thing on the next day. Wahid was not found at all. They
completely despaired now. "Wahid must have lost his life
somewhere, or else we would have found him by now," they said to
each other.
On the third day, Tobbya and her father were watching the slaves pass by
as usual. They waited and waited. It was already noon and Wahid had
not been found. They had now almost no hope at all. Indeed they were
even tired of looking at the mass of human beings flooding by. Only
now and then would they look up and see if it was Wahid there. It had
now become almost instinctive for them to do that. Wahid was not
At about noon, however, Tobbya saw a young man walking side by side with
a clean-shaven Mohammedan merchant. The young man was carrying a
stick on his shoulders and was walking slowly and pensively. As soon
as she saw him Tobbya thought that his general stature and his
movements looked like those of her brother. But the young man whom
she was looking at looked much darker than Wahid. The young slave and
his Mohammedan master approached the tent. Tobbya knew now beyond any
doubt that the young man, who looked a bit darker because of
extremities of cold and heat was her own brother, Wahid. She was
overwhelmed by her sudden discovery and could not say a word. She did
not even tell her father what she saw. She only stretched her hands
towards Wahid and fell down flat on her face.
Her father did not see what happened. He only saw his daughter suddenly
fall on her face. He did not know what happened to Tobbya. When he
saw her fall down he ran forward to pick her up. In the meantime
Wahid saw his father suddenly and recognized him at once. "Father!
Oh! Father!" he cried running towards him and hurling down his
stick from his shoulders. The boy threw himself on his father and
kissed him wildly. "How on earth did you come here?" he
asked the old man. Wahid, Tobbya and their father were now clasping,
hugging, and kissing one another. They were overwhelmed by the
suddenness of their reunion and the happiness thereof. All the time,
however, none of them could say a word to the other. It was as if
they had lost their faculty of speaking, for a moment. Wahid
recognized only his father. He could not recognize Tobbya at first.
He could not recognize the young boy who was eagerly kissing him with
his father. It was only much later that the secret was explained to
In the meantime the king saw through his field glasses that Tobbya and
her father had at last found the lost boy.
He immediately ordered Wahid and his master to be brought to his
presence. The king was extremely happy when he saw Wahid for the
first time. Wahid was indeed a perfect copy of Tobbya. Everybody who
knew Tobbya at the king’s court could not tell that it was another
boy. Indeed, many thought that it was Tobbya herself who was being
recalled to the palace. Tobbya and Wahid were perfectly identical.
The only difference between them was to be found in their
temperaments. However much she tried to hide it, Tobbya had always
the delicacy and sweetness of the woman in her. Wahid on the other
hand, had the dashing characteristics of his sex. The king was highly
gratified at this. "I have now found a husband for my cousin,"
he said to himself. "She can never tell that it is anybody else
but Tobbya and will continue to love him."
The king ordered the promised gold, money, and special presents to be
given to Wahid’s former master and sent him back to his country.
"Stay with me in the palace," he said to Wahid. "I
shall bring you up in my court and I’ll make you live in comfort and
happiness." Wahid did not know what to say to the king who had
been so kind to himself, to Tobbya and their father. At last he made
up his mind. "Your Majesty," he told the king. "I
first went out of my country to look for a certain merchant who was
kind to me and to thank him for his good deeds. While in search of
the man I underwent innumerable difficulties, and I was finally sold
into slavery. You have just freed me from this bondage. But I have
taken it upon myself never to stay at home until I find that kind
man. I shall never go back on my word, Your Majesty, I shall look for
him until either I succeed in finding him or die. I cannot chose
comfort and happiness at Your Majesty’s palace and forget my friend.
Please excuse me Your Majesty. It is I who will be the loser, you can
always find hundreds to serve you happily and willingly."
The king admired Wahid’s determination and strong will. "If that is
the only reason," answered the king, "I shall find your
friend just as I found you. Don’t worry about that. Only accept my
offer and stay with me here in my palace." "Your Majesty,"
answered Wahid with much feeling, "if you promise to do that for
me, I am more than willing to serve you. Let alone to live in comfort
and happiness, as you have said, I am even willing to stay with you
as one of the humble slaves in the palace."
The king immediately gave an order for an announcement to be made
throughout his kingdom inviting all merchants within his realm to
come to his palace. The proclamation read as follows:
"All ye merchants within my kingdom, be sure to come to my palace as soon
as you have heard this proclamation for those of you who have been
plundered during the war. I shall restore your merchandise to you;
and for those who have not lost anything during the war I shall issue
passports which will ensure you safe and free movements everywhere."
On the morrow Wahid was made one of the king’s courtiers with all the
honors and decorations that Tobbya formerly possessed. The king made
him a very intimate attendant, and almost all the courtiers of the
king began to be jealous of the young boy’s status. The king warned
Wahid, however, of the possibility that his courtiers
might try to create stories against him, as they had done in the case
of Tobbya, to bring about his disgrace. He warned him not to accept
any orders except from himself, and not to leave his presence at all:
Wahid would therefore spend the whole day in the king’s presence and
then go to his tent at night to join Tobbya and his father.
The king’s cousin did not know of Wahid’s coming to the palace. After the
scandalous story against Tobbya and herself her father had ordered
her not to leave the tent at all and never to go to any of the
quarters where the king received his courtiers. But the king knew her
feelings towards Tobbya. He knew how much she loved Tobbya, and how
much she lamented her dismissal from the court. One day he wanted to
console her. "Don’t worry, my sister. If you love him I shall
take him back to my service." When she heard these words she was
extremely happy."My Lord and brother," she said to him, her
eyes wet with tears, "if you do that for me, My Lord, I am ready
to renounce my royal status and serve you as one of your cooks or as
one of your humblest slaves. I know that as your cousin I have all
the world at my disposal. But what purpose would all this glory serve
if one could not get what one wished? There can be no happiness in
this world in such circumstances. It is much better to be happy in
poverty than to suffer in richness. If you want to make me happy, my
Lord, help me to be married to Tobbya the only boy I have loved so
much in my life; and I shall be ready to return your kindness by
renouncing all my royal honors and serving you as one of your humble
servants." She wept as she spoke. But before the king could
reply to her demands her father came suddenly, and the king left them
alone. The Princess was left in suspense without knowing what the
king’s answer would be. The king himself was in love with Tobbya! He
could think of nothing but her. Everything else began to slip from
his memory. At times he would stop in the middle of sentence and
grapple for words trying to remember what he wanted to say. In the
evening, after the usual banquets he would send out all his
courtiers, go out of his royal tent, and stare at Tobbya’s tent
beyond for hours in the perfect silence of the night and would only
go to bed when he felt too sleepy to remain awake.
This was his first love. Tobbya was the first and only one he loved and
wanted to possess. Indeed, before he knew the true identity of Tobbya
and wanted to make her his queen no woman ever came to his mind. He
was such a disciplined and serious prince. Once he loved Tobbya
however, he dreamt of nobody else but her! He would have liked to go
and pay her a secret visit every night. But he knew Tobbya very well.
He knew her strong will power, her shyness, and the strength of her
faith. The only thing he could do was to ask Wahid how Tobbya was
when he came early in the morning. "How is Tobbya?" was the
first thing the king said to Wahid every morning. Such was his love
for Tobbya, a secret he could not share with anybody, not even his
beloved cousin. In the meantime, thousands and thousands of merchants
began to come to the palace in accordance with the king’s
proclamation. Those who had been robbed of their merchandise during
the war came to ask for restitution. Others came to receive the royal
permits which would give them free and safe passages every where.
Every merchant without exception came to the king’s palace. The king
was very happy to see them coming. He told Wahid to look for his man
attentively and ordered the merchants to march in front of him.
Wahid stood at the gate and began looking for his benefactor. He looked and
looked but could not find him the first day. On the morrow he resumed
his search he looked for hours and hours without success. Very late
in the morning, however, a merchant walked slowly in front of him
looking very sad. He was literally in rags and it was evident from
his looks that he had been suffering from hunger. He had been robbed
of all his property and had undergone innumerable difficulties. When
he saw him, Wahid was extremely happy. He jumped and fell on the
knees of the good man. "How are you my lord?" he asked the
merchant clinging onto his knees. "How are you my kind
benefactor?" The countenance of the merchant had much changed
because of the extremities he suffered. But it was not difficult for
Wahid to recognize him.
The merchant was astonished. At first he could not remember where he had
known the young man who was prostrating himself before him in spite
of his honors and illustrious decorations. Later, however, when Wahid
told him his story he remembered clearly what had happened. But he
was not happy because he did not want his good deeds to be publicized
in this world. He wanted to do good for its own sake, not for vain
As soon as he saw that Wahid had found the man he was looking for the
king ordered him to be brought to his presence. He asked him how much
property he had lost during the war, and gave him twice as much.
Moreover, he made him a Negadras (a kind of agent for financial
affairs) in the district where he lived, and sent him home. It is
sometimes true that the deeds of men are visited upon them not only
in the world to come but in this world of men. Once he had fulfilled
his promise to find the merchant for Wahid, the king called him and
his father to his presence in private. "You were weeping day in
and day out at the loss of your beloved son," he said to Wahid’s
father ."But I found him for you and thus made you happy."
He then turned to Wahid and said: "And you Wahid, you were
looking for that good merchant for months on end: you were even sold
into slavery in the process. 1 freed you from bondage and found the
man for you. Now," he added looking at both of them, "now
it is your turn to do something for me in return!" Wahid and his
father were confounded. They could not imagine what they could
possibly do for the king.
"Your Majesty," they told the young king, it is indeed true that we
should do something for you in return. But what on earth could we do
for you except to express our gratitude for all the kindness you have
done to us, and to pray that God may give you a long and prosperous
life? You could fulfill all our wishes because everything is within
your power. But you know we can do nothing for you in return.
Moreover is there anything in this world you could not get if you
wanted; anything that we, your humble servants, could do for you? No,
Your Majesty, no."
"It is true," he replied, "I can do everything I want. I am
king, and my kingdom is wide. Though I am still young and have lost
my mother and father, my god has given me all that I need in this world. There is only one thing I
lack to make my happiness complete, something I can only get with
your help. It is not only kings and rich men that can help others. I
do not ask you what you cannot do for me."
"’Well Your Majesty tell us what you want us to do for you. There is nothing
within our power that we will refuse to do for Your Majesty." A
cock who lives with his hens by picking microscopic grains from the
ground is much happier than a lonely fox who is let loose among sheep
and goats and has plenty to devour! So is my position, though I have
everything at my disposal I am not completely happy as yet. If you
want me to be perfectly happy," he said finally addressing
Wahid’s father " give me the hand of Tobbya and let her be my
wife. And you Wahid " he added looking toward the young boy, "
accept the hand of my beloved cousin and marry her. Once you marry
her you shall be the first man in my kingdom next to myself. This I
promise to you!"
Tobbya’s father was stunned at the unexpected demand of the king. Moreover, he
was worried about Tobbya’s reactions. He knew she cared much for her
religion and feared that she would at once reject the proposal.
Finally he decided to postpone his reply " Give me some time to
think about it," he said to the king and went home. Wahid too,
did not reply. He wanted first to see what would happen to Tobbya.
Tobbya was shocked when she heard of the king’s plans. Indeed she was
surprised. She never wanted a life of comfort and grandeur and could
not at once assent to his proposal. She only thought of the various
possibilities. If she refused, she thought, it would be ungrateful to
the king who had done so much for her and her family. If she accepted
his hand it would be tantamount to denying her religion and would
mean that she preferred the comforts and pleasures of his transient
world to the happiness and eternal glory of the world to come. She
finally decided to refuse the hand of the pagan king whatever the
risks. Before she took any step, however, she prayed her Lord to
protect her father and brother from all dangers that might befall
them because of her decision. She then wrote the following letter to
the king.
Your Majesty! I have just heard that you asked my father for my hand.
I was surprised at this sudden and unexpected news. You are a great
king, a rich man under whose power everybody and everything trembles.
All the peoples of the world respect your name and honor You have had
a glorious past and greater things await you in the future. How can
such a man condescend so much as to ask the hand of a poor girl like
me? Indeed it would certainly show great respect for me if I accepted
this unmerited honor But I know that I do not deserve it I cannot be
a suitable match for you. Please leave me alone, Your Majesty.
Moreover, I cannot give my hand to a king who has not been baptized
in the name of Christ. I cannot deny my religion and forfeit the
eternal life and glory that await me in the world to come for the
passing, transient comforts and pleasures of this world. I stretch my
hands towards God, and shall never give my hand willingly to a pagan.
I have pledged myself, Your Majesty, not to marry anyone but a
Christian. I pray Your Majesty to take
this in good spirit. You have indeed done a lot for us : you have
found my brother for us and made us happy. No man can do anything in
return for such kindness. It is only God himself who can reward you
for it. You do not know Christ, but he knows you, and will certainly
reward you for your goodness!" At the end of the letter Tobbya
added "You remember, Your Majesty, you have given us your word
of honor more than once that you would send us to our country in
peace. I pray you, My Lord, to fulfill your promise and to make it
possible for us to return home as soon as possible." She gave
the letter to Wahid and begged him to deliver it to the king in
The king was very sorry at the failure of his proposal. He could make
Tobbya his wife by force, but he knew very well that forced marriage
cannot be a success and that a king should not misuse his powers to
obtain by force whatever he wanted. He also thought of sending his
friends home according to his word of honor But that was
inconceivable! His whole body trembled at the thought of sending
Tobbya away and losing her for ever. He could not stand it. He
preferred Tobbya to everything else. He felt that his kingdom, his
crown, his riches and all his royal grandeur were nothing compared to
Tobbya. His heart beat and he had a terrible fever when he thought
of the possibility of losing Tobbya. He was extremely troubled
by his feeling and began to avoid people. He refused to
give any audiences. It was announced that the king had a fever
and that he would not see anyone. No one except Wahid was allowed
to see him. The king felt almost desperate as regards the possibility
of marrying Tobbya. She had once and for all vowed not to marry him
because he was not a Christian. He spent hours and hours in
meditation. He knew clearly that Tobbya would not change her mind
at all unless he became a Christian. Finally after long
contemplation he decided to embrace the Christian religion. "
Go and tell your sister", he said to Wahid at last, "that I
have decided to become a Christian and marry her. Go and convey to
her my congratulations. Tell her to get a priest for me who would
teach and baptize me in private." Tobbya was very happy at the
news, not because she was going to be a queen, but because God had
used her as a means of converting the great pagan king to
Christianity. She praised the name of God for his kindness.
The king began in earnest preparing for the great day. He announced that
he was going to give a grand feast after some months and ordered
everything to be ready soon: tella and tej were
prepared and many heads of cattle were collected.
At night one of the high priests of the church came from one of the
monasteries and began teaching him in secret the fundamentals of the
Christian faith. He was not the only one who attended this nocturnal
course. Also his cousin participated in the secret lessons. The king
had planned to give her in marriage to Wahid who looked like Tobbya
whom she loved as a disguised boy. He called her in private and said
to her " You must become a Christian if you want to marry your
beloved Tobbya. I myself have decided to be baptized and to marry a
Christian girl." She readily accepted the idea and attended the
secret lessons with him. Both began to understand the teachings of
Christ. In the meantime the king made secret arrangements for all his
weapons of war to have the sign of the cross carved on them. A new
flag and seal was made bearing the signs of the cross instead of the
pagan ones. Now all the royal drums, the trumpets, the shields, and
all the medals and other state decorations bore the cross and other
signs of the Christian faith. The names of the pagan gods were
erased and the name of Christ inscribed in their place. After all the
preparations for the feast were finished the king and his cousin were
baptized by the high priest at midnight one day before the king’s
wedding day. On the morrow, before sunrise, the king ordered his new
flag to be fixed on his tents and the old one to be put on the fire.
Then at day break the big drum began to be heard resounding at the
square in front of the palace with two banners bearing the cross
carried on either side of it. This meant in accordance with usual
practice that a very important proclamation was going to be made and
that everyone should assemble in the main square to listen to the
announcement. Everyone was still in bed, but when the regular and
familiar beats of the drum were heard all hastened to get up and
ran to the square as soon as possible. Some could not
get the time to wash their faces nor even to get dressed properly.
Everyone ran to the square to hear the proclamation. Within a short
time the square was full of thousands of people.
The king watched this from his palace. When he saw the people gathered he
sent his chief herald accompanied by his large group of announcers
down to the square. The king’s chief herald was dressed in special
costumes of honor: a llemd, or short cape elaborately worked with
gold, golden shoes, golden hat, a golden zennar or cartridge belt, a
beautiful gown and green trousers of silk, and carried the document
of the proclamation in one hand and a golden stick in the other. With
such pomp and grandeur the king’s herald reached the square. The
rhythm of the drum became faster and faster signifying that the time
for the big announcement was arriving. The people waited silently for
the proclamation. Everyone was pushing everyone else in frenzy to get
near enough to listen to every word of the announcement. Finally one
herald ascended the platform as usual to pronounce the king’s wishes.
"Listen, listen ye people," he began, "May God render
deaf the ears of the king’s enemies!" After the pronouncement of
this formula with which every proclamation started, the chief Herald
of the king read slowly and in a low voice the words of the
proclamation which were then repeated loudly by the announcer on the
central platform. It ran as follows:
"Oh my people, and my country! There is only one God who created the
world. He created the earth, the heavens, mankind, animals, and all
the other things in the world. There has never been another creator
nor shall any other even come in the future. The only True God was
before the World and will continue to be even after this transient
world passes away. We believe in God the father, God the son, and God
the Holy Ghost who is only one God.
"This Almighty God first created Adam and Eve and made them multiply and
reproduce the human race.

Not only Adam and Eve but also all the birds and the other animals
glorified His name for this. For years and years our ancestors
multiplied themselves and filled the face of the earth. They began
living in the different parts of the world and their languages and
ways of life became different .Their beliefs and religions also
became different. Men forgot the True God and began worshiping idols.
But God still loved the world and sent his only Son to the world. The
Son of God came down from the Heavens, was incarnated and born by the
Holy Virgin Mary. He became man like any one of us and taught the
Word of God. He was crucified, and died on the cross. His disciples
went round the world and taught his words. Wherever they taught the
name of God the people understood the words of God and believed in
Christ. They were baptized in the name of Christ. Those who did not
listen to the teachings of the Apostles remained in darkness and
continued to worship idols, evil spirits, trees, and mountains.
"I have also been carrying on this heritage of darkness and ignorance.
But now Jesus Christ has opened my heart. He has pulled me out of the
darkness of ignorance and made me know the only and true creator of
the World. I am convinced in the Truths of the teachings of Christ.
Let it be known to my beloved people that I have become a Christian.
Those who have me and would like to follow me may be baptized; those
who do not love me may do otherwise. Let those of you who accept to
be Christians, move to the right hand side and camp there; those who
prefer their old ways of life may proceed to the left and camp there.
These were the words of the king’s proclamation. There was no one who
wanted to camp at the left hand side. All wanted to be baptized All
decided for Christianity! Every one silently proceeded to the right
hand side and camped in order as if no change was introduced at all.
The king had been worrying that he might be left alone, he was very
happy when he saw that his people honored his new religion and
followed him. He immediately passed a royal decree to the effect that
Christians might possess slaves but no one might keep Christians as
All were saved because of a merchant. All believed in Christ because of a
woman. The whole of Christian Ethiopia was established because of the
words of a king.
A very big das, or temporary pavilion was built for the wedding
ceremony. The tables were set at once. Wat was prepared in a
very large quantity, and tej was kept in hundreds of
containers ready to be served to the royal guests. Areqe was
made available. Many head of cattle were slain. Glasses and birille
were washed and set in order on the tables. Everything was now
ready for the feast.
The king had already prepared "the royal costumes and ornaments for
his queen. A new tent of red silk richly embellished with gold was
pitched for her. A large fence of red clothes, like that for the
king’s tents, was built round the tent. Hundreds of body guards lined
up around it. Tobbya was dressed in her magnificent costume of a
queen and was led into her new tent with a retinue of beautiful
lady-attendants almost as gorgeously dressed as their royal mistress.
A thousand shank-ilia or Negro soldiers armed with shining
swords and wearing their tall red tarbooshes came to join the queen’s
body guard and formed part of Her Majesty’s followers. Tobbya’s camp
looked more active and more beautiful than that of the king himself.
Wahid was made the king’s Ras Bitweded9 and was crowned
with the traditional coronet of his new title. The king ordered all
the high ranking officials of the old Christian Kingdom to camp with
Wahid and become his followers. Wahid’s army and following soon
became the largest after that of the king himself.
It was decided that both the king and Wahid should marry on the same
day. The king’s cousin still thought that she was going to marry
Tobbya, the young handsome boy she loved. The king still did not tell
her the secret of Tobbya’s identity. So on the eve of their wedding
day he took Wahid to her to see her reactions. When she saw Wahid in
his new costumes of honor wearing the coronet of the Ras Bitweded
she never doubted that it was not Tobbya. She longed to see her
beloved so much that as soon as she saw him she burst into tears. She
could not stand the happiness of seeing "Tobbya" once again
after such a long time! she only said to the king that "Tobbya"
must have increased much in height since she saw him last. "His
name is no more Tobbya," the king told her. "I have given
him another name. He is henceforth to be known as Wahid.10 Wahid
means one, or united as one.11 I gave him this name
because on this day the pagans and the Amharas11 (Christians)
are united into one. His original name has been given to my wife. She
is to be known as Tobbya."
"It is fine, Your Majesty," answered his cousin. "It is a good
name. It has a good meaning. I agree."
The wedding was celebrated. The marriage made thousands and thousands of
people happy. The kingdom and the new religion were greatly
As soon as he was thus honored Wahid remembered the son of these kind
people who helped him recover from the wounds inflicted upon him by a
group of merchants. He searched for him, found him, and made him his
chief courtier.
And the king composed the following lines in praise of Tobbya:
"Where has such a beauty blossomed,
She must be an angel sent down from heaven;
Created by God with no defects, and no blemishes.
She enchants the whole world, both men and women;
Despite all these blessings of Nature, she knows no pride:
She cut down her beautiful hair in a boy’s fashion;
She renounced her softest dresses of silk to put on a rough
She abandoned her tender Persian carpets, and walked on
foot on the roughest of roads; She left her comfortable throne for a dirty
solitary hill; While free from faults she was accused of dishonorable
acts; She was dismissed from service by the folly of a dwarf
and his infamous accomplices. She was disguised as a boy for the sake of
her brother;
When her identity was revealed, however, she united two
conflicting kingdoms. Tobbya is a courageous girl—she displayed her
valor in the battle field, And she was the only one who captured the enemy

She is an object of pride to all who love her,

She won a crown for herself for all her troubles.

Like a plant in the dry season.

Every one withered under the effect of your beauty.

Let every one be enchanted and allured,

If that leads him to the worship of God!

I have discovered something unique in your personality.

So artistically made by God, you trouble the hearts of men

However much I learn and understand the Gospels,

I cannot believe that there is anyone on earth as beautiful
as Tobbya."
In response to His Majesty’s poem Tobbya sang the following lines:
”Why all this criticism"?
What has Tobbya done, except to marry a king?

Millions of Amhara hosts dispersed before him;

Rases and Dejazmatches were reduced by him;

He disposed many powerful kings;

No weapons of war overpowered him;

People trembled at the news of his approach,

He crushed oxen into pieces,

No chain was strong enough to harness him.

He was literally a lion, an uncontrollable lion,

But now he is tame, and tied down by a Mateb.13
No power of the Christian kings of Abyssinia,

Not even the Turks who manufactured arms.

No one could break the power of your Fathers.

You are now sitting on the great throne.

You are very young, inexperienced in the arts of war,

You do not know what to do,

You dispersed your large army at the words of a priest."

The Amharic has the double meaning,
" a fine young man " or " a healthy young man."
It is this latter meaning that the merchant understands when the
merchant tells bin. about Wahid.

The Ethiopians beat their chests with their fists as an expression of
sorrow or pity. This is particularly the practice of women,
especially in funeral processions.

Qwancha, a basket container used for keeping milk or other liquids.

Ingib, a bowl-shaped basket used to hold and measure grain.

Hamle, the Ethiopian month of greatest rain.

Sent, the tenth month of the Ethiopian year.

Amelmalo is the final and softest stage in the preparation of cotton
before being spun. The cotton, after being cleaned and softened is
rolled into small pieces of long cylindrical form… These pieces are
called amelmalo and are taken one by one to be spun into fine
threads. Amelmalo is therefore taken as a symbol of refinement and
fineness, often in connection with delicate fingers, because, if
nothing else there is a similarity between a finger and an amelmado.

The Amharic word for "this" is of the feminine gender.
Tobbya therefore understood in mediately that it referred to her and
that it would thus reveal her identity. She immediately warned her
father, however, who cleverly played on the word and used it to refer
not to Tobbya but to the world which in Amharic can be considered
either masculine or feminine.

Ras Bitwoded, a title of the greatest honor Has, literally means head
and Bitwoded, beloved.

Literally, one united, etc.

Amhara is strictly speaking the name of one of the main tribes of
Ethiopia, a tribe which was converted to Christianity in the early
centuries after Christ. Being very militant and having struggled for
centuries with the Muslims on religious and political issues, this
tribe has given its name to the Christian population of central
Ethiopia. The name of the tribe was often used as a synonym for a
Christian. Even today, especially in the highly islamized regions of
Eastern Ethiopia the common people use the term Amhara for all

This refers, of course, to the King’s love for Tobbya.

The mateb is the piece of cloth worn by Christians as a sign of their
faith, term is often used us a symbol of Christianity.

Culture, Literature

Wax and Gold, by Gedamu Abraha


By Gedamu Abraha

Skovoroda, a radical thinker of
eighteenth-century Russia, viewed the wretched state of affairs in
his beloved land and penned his cri de coeur: " Our
Father which art in Heaven, wilt Thou send down a Socrates to us
soon, one who will teach us to know ourselves, so that knowing
ourselves, we may then develop out of ourselves a philosophy which
will be our own, native and natural to our land."

And now in the second half of the
twentieth century, Western foundations and universities viewing the
wretched state of affairs amongst those described by Frantz Fanon as
les damnés de la terre have
convinced themselves that the undeveloped countries are in dire need
of the kind of teacher Skovoroda had in mind. One can hardly find a
single undeveloped country that has not been penetrated by intrepid
anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, manpower
specialists, or low-income housing experts. This explosion in social
science research has brought about another phenomenon in the
book-publishing business: a torrential outpouring of books on the
modernizing " problems " of the peoples of le tiers

Generally, the books published on
this or that problem of this country or of this region of that
country are mere ventures in book-making; fledgeling specialists are
transformed into scholars by the grace of a foundation grant, a
one-year residence in one country or another, and the publication of
a " scientific " record of their field work. (The
scientific method of recording such observations is called, in the
impressive language of the trade, " observational technique of
participant behaviour.")

By and large, most of the books
which follow the field work of the social scientists are incredibly
dull, uninspired or simply silly. Commonplace or banal observations
are invariably trotted out as scientific discoveries and facts are
tampered with to fit theories. One social scientist who did his field
research among the peasants of Thailand asked the peasants to
complete the sentence: ‘ The thing which we want the most is . . .’
Seventy-seven per cent completed the sentence with " money.”
The desire of the Thai peasant for money was. thus scientifically
proven. (Times Literary Supplement, November 11, 1965.) Be
that as it may, the horrendous mutation of the social scientists to
queer cross-breeds between Socrates and post-Freud Don Quixote need
not detract one from appreciating their good intentions.

There are, of course, some
exceptions to the dreary production; Dr. Levine’s Wax & Gold
one of these. It has received a mixed reception ranging from
unrestrained acclaim to mild praises and outright denunciations.
These varied and heated reactions pinpoint the duality of the book:
it is a serious and illuminating piece of work; it has at the same
time, the maddening sting of a gadfly.

An American reviewer raved that
Wax & Gold is both scholarly and artistic. (Africa
April 1966.) The reviewer enumerated the various topics
covered in the book and having found out, mercifully, that he had
nothing original or important to say concluded his astonishing
panegyric: "I find little to criticize and heartily recommend it
as one of the best books on Ethiopia."

A reviewer in the London Times
Literary Supplement
(March 24, 1966) was of the opinion that Wax
& Gold
enriches the literature on Ethiopia " by what may
well be the first sustained effort in social analysis." The
reviewer was a good deal Jess enthusiastic than American reviewers.
He noted that the book has: "… many errors of transcription
and a few of interpretation; the author’s want of Ge’ez often
traps him at sensitive points; and many of his extra-linguistic
conclusions rest very shakily on tenuous linguistic premises."
The reviewer was particularly distressed by Dr. Levine’s penchant for
dogmatic Freudian theories, by his distortion of historical facts and
by his unscrupulous juggling of sociological facts to fit his
theories. These grave shortcomings notwithstanding, the reviewer
concluded: "… Nobody has yet described (Ethiopia’s) dilemma,
its origin, its magnitude and possible ways of resolving it with
greater ability and understanding than Dr. Donald Levine."

Indeed, Dr. Levine’s Wax &
is a model of intellectual acumen and of great and relevant
learning in the best tradition of empirical (bourgeois) social
science. That a scholar who is endowed with such keen intelligence
should have found a theme so matched to his subtle turn of mind is a
piece of good fortune for the field of Ethiopic studies Professor
Levine is fond of Ethiopia or, should I say, of what he thinks is the
" real " Ethiopia; he is also generous to a fault in his
admiration—even if just a trifle patronizing—of what he
thinks is the " real " or " true " Ethiopian, the
traditional (feudal?) Abyssinian. He is shrewd and almost
indefatigable observant. His chapters on child rearing, adolescence
and individualism are gems of keen observation. He has successfully
conveyed, even if unwittingly, the smothering atmosphere and the
banality of our contemporary society. 1 should fancy that Dr.
Levine’s Wax & Gold will also have an esteemed place in
the esoteric literature on the backwoods of human civilization.

Truth, observed Margery Perham, is
an elusive quarry -‘in Ethiopian studies, historical or contemporary.
Recalling that one who knew the country very well had said to her, "
Ethiopia is a country of which no one can speak the truth,"
Margery Perham agreed that "everything can be contradicted
either because the opposite is also true of some region or of some
aspect of the subject or because the truth is not known."
Presumably it was this inherently contradictory nature of the social
realities of Ethiopia that forced Dr. Levine to use regional and
exclusivist terms. Moreover, his methodological approach —that
of the empirical social scientist—shackles him to his presumed
specific data although he has an unfortunate propensity to forget his
self-imposed tether.

The appearance of Dr.
Levine’s book should be received
with pleasure—though one must qualify this by hastily adding:
but not with unmixed pleasure. That a young scholar should
have constructed and propounded, with much study and mental toil, an
original theory— regardless of the soundness or unsoundness of
the theory—is unquestionably an astounding achievement that
needs be applauded and admired. But to say so is not to intimate a
wish that Dr. Levine’s methodology and theory may become fashionable
among scholars of Ethiopics; in point of fact, quite the contrary.

Professor Levine’s mind is of
large grasp. He has poise and depth although sound judgement tends to
elude him. His book, though not profound, probably shows more talent
than quite a few of the recent books on Ethiopia. (It is not
insignificant that he dismisses all the literature on Ethiopia, with
the sole exception of Perham’s Government of Ethiopia, as "
esoteric " and " insipid blandishments of partisans"
(p. ix), although his olympian judgement does not restrain him from
resorting to the same " esoteric " and " insipid "
books to prove his arguments.) But the doctrines which are put
forward in Dr. Levine’s book are based on superficial analysis—-and
hence pernicious if followed out in practice—that one is
compelled to comment on the book with that freedom which the
importance of the subject requires.

The obvious weakness of the book
is that it has no meaningful and relevant theme, hence no sustaining
insight. It is a collection of seven essays on seven diverse
problems. Dr. Levine himself seems to be aware of this weakness as
when he says in his preface: "… if the book is … somewhat
disjointed at moments, I hope the reader will be compensated by
sharing some of my satisfaction in refusing to repress one or another
of these interests." (p. vii.) One wishes one could share the
author’s satisfaction. The " oral ambivalence" and "
physical aggressiveness " formulation fails to correct the
disjointed nature of the book as these are essentially esoteric
concepts (despite the author’s gallant effort to quantify and
classify them) which may help one to have a feeling, an empathy for a
culture. They can hardly be the " keys " to a culture, as
Dr. Levine asserts. Moreover, the theme of " oral ambivalence"
and " physical aggressiveness " does not improve the
quality of the book for Dr. Levine has taken these mental
classifications as objective things and tries to reduce the social
realities of past and present Ethiopia to these twin concepts. The
result is that, for example, his chapter on " wax and gold "
is a tortuous and labyrinthine essay in which he perpetually coaxes
his data to transform " wax and gold " from a form of verse
into a way of life.

Thus, Dr. Levine’s refusal "
to repress one or another of (his) interests " (i.e. empirical
social scientist, social analyst and sociological theorist) awards us
with a number of versatile, resourceful and intelligent Messrs.
Levine at the expense of a consistently profound Dr. Levine. It is,
for example, difficult to reconcile Levine the historian, who is not
an impeccably reliable historian, with Levine the empirical social
scientist, who is a master of his craft. In short one can say Wax
& Gold
is a bowl of tutti-frutti.

The scientific quality of the book
is also marred by its inconsistent terms and equivocal language: Dr.
Levine keeps changing his terms or labels (Amhara, Abyssinian,
Ethiopian) so that one is obliged to ask whether he really follows
any consistent logic in using one as against the other term. Some
uncertainty of aim, besides the limitations imposed by his data,
would seem to be responsible. It is strangely ironic that Dr. Levine
who criticizes—and rightly so—the equivocation, the
deliberate ambiguity of Ethiopians (Abyssinians as he insists in
calling them) should only manage to seem to say so. Even when his
criticism of Abyssinian ambiguity is relatively terse and direct, Dr.
Levine somehow manages to sound and seem as assiduously equivocal as
what he is criticizing. The courageous admission of Dr. Levine—"
1 freely admit to having been seduced by the charm of traditional
Amhara culture "—is not simply another variant of the
stock-in-trade humility of American social scientists. It would seem
Abyssinian ambiguity has not only charmed but also seduced—and
one hopes not irredeemably—Professor Levine.

The equivocation which animates
Professor Levine’s thought and language is best seen in the
introductory section where he writes about the " philosophy "
which " guides " his approach to the task in hand. He sets
up " at a high level of abstraction " five positions which
could be taken in considering " the encounter between
traditional and modern cultural patterns." These being: the
Traditionalist, the Modernist, the Skeptic, the Conciliatory and the
Pragmatist. The first four are lame ducks and Dr. Levine picks them
off in four neat paragraphs. Then he proceeds to boost his
position—that of the Pragmatist—in a most curious

"The Pragmatist is committed
to the optimum realization of all values possible in a given
historic situation. He affirms the human values of modernization, yet
conceives of modernity not as a single, fixed nature but as relative
to the cultural context in which modernization takes place. Given the
commitment to modernization, he would sustain traditional values
wherever possible; would modify where feasible; and would reject them
where necessary." (pp. 12-13.) The " Pragmatist "
submitted by Dr. Levine is indeed a mighty Caesar. But one is
inclined to feel that the five positions are mere " abstractions
" serving as a smokescreen to blur and mystify the two basic,
conflicting positions: the reactionary vs. the modernist. Indeed, one
can say with fairness and reason that, whatever value Dr. Levine’s
five positions might have at a high level of abstraction, as far as
the undeveloped countries are concerned, the Skeptic, the
Conciliatory and even the Pragmatist are simply traditionalists in
grey flannel suits, the image boys of traditionalism.

Dr. Levine, the Pragmatist, says
he is " committed to the optimum realization of all values
possible in a given historic position." But what are " all
the values possible in a given historic situation " if not the
values of the ruling class in that given historic situation?
According to Dr. Levine, his brand of philosophy " affirms the
human values of modernization, yet conceives of modernity not as of a
single, fixed nature but as relative to the cultural context in which
modernization takes place." A clever piece of liberal
double-talk: He "affirms," somewhat defiantly, "
the human values of modernization" in such a manner that it is
transformed into a stunted or aborted modernization " relative
to the cultural context in which it takes place." Grotius
insisted several hundred years ago that " even God cannot cause
that two times two should not make four." It is a reflection on
the philosophical integrity of pragmatism and the scientific
quality of bourgeois social science that we now
have Dr. Levine’s dictum: traditionalism in a mini-skirt
(Dior, perhaps) equals modernization.

One may rightly question whether
Dr. Levine’s ideological bias is relevant to the question of the
intrinsic value of his book. Had he been less equivocal about his
ideological prejudice, this bias would have been irrelevant. But,
Professor Levine tells us that he has studied, examined and analyzed
the problems besetting Ethiopia in its quest for modernity and has
felt morally obliged to offer his suggestions concerning which
traditional values should be sustained, which ones should be modified
and which should be rejected. In view of this, anyone writing an
appreciation of the merits and demerits of the book would also feel
morally obliged to point out the essentially conservative bias of its
author. Indeed, Dr. Levine loses the studied detachment of the
pragmatist and empirical social scientist when he asserts flatly: "
The experience of history has demonstrated the futility of attempting
revolutionary implementation of a clear and distinct ideal in human
society." (p. 16.) He reveals the same dogmatism with his
categorical statement: "The most productive and liberating sort
of social change is that built on continuity with the past." (p.
50.) Surprising as it may seem, Dr. Levine is not ashamed of being
clever. Neither does he find it intellectually embarrassing to
indulge in legerdemain and present a dogmatic assertion as a
valid argument.

Whether Professor Levine’ is a
liberal or a Fascist, a Trotskyite or a Bourgeois-Nationalist, is not
in itself of any great importance. But one has to raise the issue of
his conservative bias—or, as he prefers to call it,
pragmatism—because it stands between the book and his readers
in a most annoying way. Dr. Levine is so determined to see change
take place in Ethiopia in piece-meal fashion and in what he believes
is a sensible manner that he loses no chance of demolishing his
bête-noire, the radical
progressive. He refers to those who would like to see radical change
take place in Ethiopia as immature and hysterical modernists; the
contemptuous sneer is scarcely hidden. While Dr. Levine is, of
course, entitled to shadow-box with the "hysterical modernists,"
it opens his flank to serious criticism as to whether he was indeed
well advised to pepper his book with unnecessary political rhetoric.
It is an unfortunate and ill-advised political excursion on his part
which will only serve to detract readers from his otherwise
intelligent, even if misguided, book.


Ethiopia is an enigma; the
Ethiopian a riddle. Few nations are so ignorant of their own history
as Ethiopians; fewer still, if any, spread more myths about it. Few
would surpass their capacity for self-delusion; fewer still would
surpass their wry cynicism. Contradiction is inherent in the
Ethiopian, who, besides being an Ethiopian, is also an Abyssinian.
[The Ethiopian resents being called Abyssinian by foreigners; yet
when he refers to himself, he defines himself as Abasha

Pride and humility, cruelty and
kindness, generosity and parsimoniousness, sluggishness and
quick intelligence, gluttony and asceticism—one could go on
listing their paradoxical characteristics. All these and more are
wrapped in a thick hide of obdurate smugness. Alvarez, the intrepid
Portuguese priest, observed with a touch of sadness and resignation:
" They have a great contempt for other nations and scarcely
know, or do not care, if any exist or not." Hotten was less
tolerant and could not think of any redeeming quality: " 1 have
never yet been able to discover what an Abyssinian could be ashamed
of, except a solecism in what he considers good manners."
Plowden listed their defects: "Indolence, over-weening vanity,
entire ignorance of the world beyond Abyssinia, . . . aversion to the
smallest change." But, he added hastily, "I would not have
my readers think the Abyssinian are wholly bad," and credits
them with being quick and intelligent, generous, usually humane and
indulgent, always polite, seldom coarse. Plowden believed that if the
Abyssinians " once vanquish the idea that they are perfect, that
they are the favoured people of the Earth, that nothing can be taught
them, (then) they will be quick and intelligent to learn and to
imitate." The idea is still unvanquished.

Tellez was more impressed by their
tenacious conservatism, noting that their invariable response to any
suggestion for innovation was: " This same is and ever was the
form of Government in their country and it will cause great troubles
to alter it." He commented in a sad tone so tenacious are men of
ancient customs, that they will rather be wrong in their own way than
stand corrected by others."

Margery Perham mulling over this
mosaic of contradictory characteristics observed: " One of the
most striking features of the opinions of those who visited Ethiopia
is the contradictions in their accounts of the disposition of the
people, and those may even be found in the same account." She
then took one deep breath and summarized the character of the
paradoxical Ethiopians as: "a people of pride and high spirit,
the distrust bred by centuries of defending their mountains against
all newcomers, tempered by friendliness and courtesy; conservative
while not incurious, their lives pervaded by religion without being
really spiritual. They appear to be an easy-going people, lax in
their sexual life yet with a high sense of decorum and public
manners. They alternate excesses of cruelty which led in Bruce’s day
to such horrors as flaying men alive and the emasculation of the
wounded and the captives, with kindliness and notable acts of mercy.
Ethiopians are courageous in war, but neither very inventive nor
industrious in the arts of peace outside their practice of
agriculture. Perhaps the most marked characteristic in the eyes of
foreigners is their overwhelming self-satisfaction, the product of
long mastery upon their plateau, their almost unbroken success in
throwing invaders back from it and their complete ignorance of the
world beyond."

Perham concluded her reflection on
the Ethiopian character with a sentence which symbolizes the success
of reflective and analytic power over first-hand observation: "
It seems as though the influence of Christianity and of ancient
civilization struggled against those of isolation and material
poverty." It needed the subtle intuition of a woman to pinpoint
the source of the dilemma which permanently marks the Ethiopian
character, Gibbon, concerned with the rise and fall of civilizations,
could not quite make up his mind whether the Ethiopian civilization
was rising or falling or whether it had actually died a stifled death
at birth. He deduced with his unrelenting logic: "Encompassed on
all sides by the enemies of their religion, the Aethiopians slept
near a thousand years, forgetful of the world, by whom they were
forgotten." Dr. Czeslaw Jesman, a shrewd but tolerant observer
of Ethiopia, dismissed Gibbon’s mild judgment as " monumental
nonsense " and yet agreed that Ethiopia is indeed a paradox. Dr.
Richard Pankhurst described Gibbon’s verdict as " a half truth."
Ethiopia is a paradox, an historical enigma: rich yet abysmally poor;
an ancient country yet a member (and not a reluctant one at that) of
the " emerging " bloc; autocratic yet really anarchic by
default. Ethiopia is a Christian nation yet one-half of its people,
at least, are Moslems or Pagans. Ethiopia is a country with an
ancient culture and literature yet with an almost illiterate

Gaps between illusion and reality
are endemic to old nations. The dichotomy between illusion and
reality, between past and present, is one of the few common
denominators of old nations. And it is due to this psychological
disposition that one cannot help but feel a shock of recognition
when one reads about Latin American caudillos or
ancient Portugal, as when Miguel de Unamuno took a look at
melancholic Portugal and said: "This country outwardly gentle
and smiling, but tormented and tragic within." Giberto Freyre,
the noted Brazilian scholar, characterized the agony of Portugal more
sharply: " Holland makes cheese, Switzerland condensed
milk, while Portugal goes on standing on tiptoe trying to make
herself seen in the gathering of Great Powers." One is moved by
an inexplicable paroxysm to murmur with a painful sigh: " du
mime pour l’Ethiopie"
Ethiopia is a mystery of time, a
country with a past too prolonged; a country feasting on what it
believes has been a glorious past. And when one speaks of the
paradox of Ethiopia, one must of necessity speak of the paradoxical
Ethiopians. Dr. Levine achieves the penetrating quality of his book
by focusing on two paradoxical characteristics of Ethiopians:
oral ambivalence and physical aggressiveness. [Dr. Levine is
not quite sure whether to ascribe these characteristics to Shoan
Amharas, all Amharas or all Abyssinians but we need not take him up
on that issue. Let us assume that, generally, most Ethiopians exhibit
the two characteristics. In Spain, they speak of the garrulous
Andalusian, stern Castilian, lively Catalan, or industrious Basque.
However, observers of Spain have come to note that these little
labels may draw attention to certain peculiarities which are obvious
at first glance, but they disappear as soon as one looks a bit
further than skin deep. Czeslaw Jesman, in discussing the problem of
the Ethiopian character, says: " The Amharas of Shoa, for
example, polite, secretive and tenacious, are a far cry from the
exuberant and happy-go-lucky ‘border’ Amharas from Wollega or from
the confines of Tigre. The Gurage, yet another stock apart, are often
endowed with a particularly resistant brand of parochialism. Yet in
all of them there is a common Ethiopic denominator. It is elusive
and does not always manifest itself in politics, but it can all
the same be detected." (The Ethiopian Paradox, p. 3).]

Oral ambivalence and physical
aggressiveness are the two dominant qualities which, according to Dr.
Levine, mark the Abyssinian character. On the relationship
between sam-enna warq (wax and gold) and equivocation as such,
Dr. Levine says "… wax and gold represents more than a
principle of poetic composition and a method of spiritual gymnastics
for a small class of literati. The ambiguity symbolized by the
formula sam-enna warq colours the entire fabric of traditional
Amhara life. It patterns the speech and outlook of every Amhara."
(p. 8.) He then quotes approvingly an "Ethiopian colleague"
who says: "Wax and gold is anything but a formula—it is a
way of life." In essence, declares Dr. Levine, " wax and
gold is simply a more refined and stylized manifestation of the
Amhara’s basic manner of communicating." (p. 9.)

As regards the functional value of
wax and gold within the society, Dr. Levine explains:

" It (wax and gold) provides
the medium for an inexhaustible supply of humor, among a wry people
who prefer the clever, double-edged remark to comic actions or
incongruous situations … it provides a means for insulting one’s
fellow in a socially approved manner, in a culture which requires
fastidious etiquette in social relations and punishes direct
insults by heavy fines. … It provides a technique for defending the
sphere of privacy against excessive intrusion in a social order that
thrives on rumour and gossip and puts most of its people at the mercy
of superiors. While vague and evasive responses often suffice to
dampen the enthusiasm of the tax collector or the curious neighbour,
sam-enna warq constitutes another potent weapon of self
defence. Finally, it provides the one outlet for criticism of
authority figures in a society which strictly controls every kind of
overt aggression toward authority be it parental, religious, or
political. …" (p. 9.) One can pin down certain
aspects of Ethiopian realities by savouring a few Amharic words
which are typically Ethiopian in their inaccessible subtlety. Dr.
Levine, the psychologically sensitive observer, picks out two such
peculiarly Ethiopian words: Min yeshallal and Tadyas. Min
(literally ‘ what is better ? ‘) is an immemorial
phrase used by the Ethiopian when he wields language not to express
his thoughts but to hide his thoughts. He looks at you intently with
a shade of quizzical scrutiny, moves his head gently to one side and
says, partly to himself and partly to you, in a tone of genuine
perplexion " Min yeshallal." You reply in the same
gentle but grave tone: "Tadyas, min yeshallal." Ritual
wins over the immediacy of the problem; he bows with a
half-apologetic smile on his face, you reciprocate. When an Ethiopian
says Min yeshallal he is not really pondering whether X is
better than Z. He feigns incomprehension, or he pretends to
make an agonizing appraisal of various issues, or he acts as if
he is really trying his best to make a choice or a decision. He
cannot say yes or no in a flatly assertive and determined tone. It is
also patently unfair, as he sees it, to corner him into saying yes or
no; he will think you are decidedly boorish. The Ethiopian seems to
see a deep chasm between yes and no, for these two dangerous words
involve decision and he would rather die than decide. One can always
decide tomorrow, for tomorrow too will have its own morrow, and, if
not, well and good—for then one does not have to decide at all.

Lawrence Fellows, a correspondent
for the New York Times, had this to say about the dilatory
evasiveness of Ethiopians: "They are graceful and
gentle-mannered people on the whole not given to saying no. In the
past they have not been particularly prone to give an outright yes
either. About as close as any Ethiopian could be expected to come to
it would be to say ‘Isshi negge.’ Roughly translated, that
means ‘ all right tomorrow.’ It is not heard so often now. It is as
if people feared there would not be time tomorrow." (New York
Sept. 11, 1966.)

It is difficult to imagine how one
can find this stereotyped equivocation charming. Dr. Levine is, of
course, entitled to be charmed by this cliche behaviour; it is a
matter of taste, not to say an outlook on life. Unfortunately, he is
temperamentally given to assume that his purely personal taste is a
universally valid truism. This propels him to indulge in linguistic
gymnastics: he refuses to recognize that the Ethiopian cultural trait
which has " seduced " him is mendacity; he prefers to call
it " wax and gold." He uses the word " sam-enna
" for ambiguity and simply assumes that he has proved "
wax and gold" is a way of life. Consequently, Dr. Levine fails
to discern that the stylized ambiguity and ritualized mendacity that
claims to express ponderosity, reflection and deliberation is
actually an indefinite postponement of decision and hence of thought.

Centuries of isolation, centuries
of grinding poverty, centuries of internecine warfare, centuries of
predatory exploitation, centuries of insecure tenancy of land have
left their mark on the Abyssinian peasant and, willy-nilly, all
Ethiopians are peasants. We cannot come to the heart of the problem
by parroting the words of Dr. Levine’s colleague that " wax and
gold is anything but a formula—it is a way of life." To
say so is to mis-state the issue; a mis-statement which inevitably
leads one to the wrong approach to the problem. Equivocation is, of
course, true of all peasant societies where the system favours the
feudal and land-owning class over the impoverished and landless
peasant. Whether it is in Turkey or Southern Italy, in Spain or
Guatemala, in Peru or Thailand, in Greece or Iran, we will find
basically the same equivocal behaviour of the peasant. Ambivalence,
equivocation and mendacity are tools for survival. To try to
attribute this essentially peasant behaviour to a particular"
genius " of a particular culture, as Dr. Levine suggests, is
neither revealing nor convincing. And if one needs a " key "
to the " genius " of Abyssinian culture, that " key "
will not be found in the esoteric land of wax and gold; it
lies in the laws of property which divide the peasant from his land.
The peasant is tied to " his " land and he manages to
survive on " his " land but the arbitrary laws of property
stand between him and " his " land; he cannot own it. The
genius lies therein—it is pure and simple.

Consider, for example, the world
of the peasant in Iran. Almost all serious observers of Iran have
come to one conclusion: the Iranian peasant is most insecure and
chronically unstable; his personality has been warped and deformed by
a brutal system of feudalism. One who has made a special study of the
Iranian peasant observed : "The background is insecurity: the
insecurity of the landlord against the caprice of the government,
insecure in the face of attack by hostile elements, whether internal
factions or invasion and the insecurity of the cultivator vis-a-vis
the landowner and others." (A. Lambton, Landlord
and Peasant in Persia.)
The Iranians have developed an accepted
behaviour called taquiyeh or dissimulation. This permits a
Moslem to pretend he is a Jew or Christian depending on his immediate
need. Iranian diplomats are noted—whenever the need arises—
for confounding their opposite numbers by feigning naivete, by
circumlocution and numerous other techniques. (H. L. Hoskins, The
Middle East.)
A scholar of Persian affairs has come to the
conclusion that Iranians are a " people of extremes " and
that a basic condition of modernization is to " remedy the
Persian’s lack of confidence in his fellow man." (R. N. Frye,
The United States and Turkey and Iran.)

How can we relate Ethiopian
equivocation to Ethiopian realities? What is the relation between an
equivocal manner of speaking and wax and gold? Indeed, what
exactly is wax and gold," this " way of life" ? Dr.
Levine says: "… sam-enna warq is the formula used by
the Amhara to symbolize their favourite form of verse."
Moreover, he adds, "… in its generic sense, the sam-enna
refers to a number of poetic figures which embody this
two-fold meaning." Not satisfied with this, he tries to give it
a definition closer to his main contention: "… but sam-enna
constructions also appear in some types of secular verse in
the vernacular Amharic, and, indeed, at times inform Amharic
conversation." Finally, Dr. Levine invokes the authorities of
Qene: "… masters of the art of Qene composition
have analysed these poetic figures into about a dozen different
types. Sam-enna warq in its more specific sense refers to one
of these—the prototype of them all." (p. 5.) Evidently, it
is a most difficult " way of life."

There are times when one must
seriously wonder whether the so-called wax and gold form of
verse is not a mere illusion of half-literate scribes who think they
are subtle, while they are not, and learned when they are not:

" Till their own dreams at

length deceive ’em, and oft
repeating, they believe ’em."

Dr. Levine’s book does not help to
assuage such lingering doubts. The three or four available Amharic
grammar books are not explicitly clear on the matter except on one
point: wax and gold is a form of verse with a patent and
latent meaning. Ato Alemayehou Mogus, on the other hand, believes
that any kind of symbolism, double entendre, obscure allusion
or a particularly dirty joke is wax and gold. Professor
Levine, who has convinced himself that wax and gold is not
only a form of verse but also a way of life, agrees most emphatically
with Ato Alemayehou and, indeed, quotes a few choice lines and
examples from the latter’s cascade of books.

Thus, to Ato Alemayehou, the
sentence: "The lion Menelik crushed the wolf Italy " is a
wax and gold line. The sentence is duty submitted as an
example in Dr. Levine’s book: "… if the poet’s aim is to
praise a hero like Emperor Menelik, he creates a wax model, like ‘
the lion ‘ in terms of whose action the gold, Menelik, is depicted:
‘The lion Menelik crushed the wolf Italy.’ " (P- 5.)

Consider the famous lines from
Richard II:

" O that I were a mockery
King of Snow Standing before the Sun Bolingbroke to melt myself away
in water drops!"

If one were to read these lines to
Ato Alemayehou and Professor Levine, the two learned gentlemen would
agree that it is a delightful piece of wax and gold verse and
then proceed to explain that the sun is the wax model in terms of
whose action the gold, Bolingbroke, is depicted.

Dr. Levine cites three other
examples of wax and gold couplets and one example of
westa-wayra verse. All of them are the ones which are
invariably presented as examples in Amharic grammar books; they are
the brothel-variety puns of tej-houses. The simple fact that
wax and gold has been given an extended meaning and that it
has now become a catch-all label for a particular form of verse, for
symbolism, for obscurantist allusions, for outright prevarication,
for veiled insults and especially for obscene puns is not in itself
very important. But it seems to me that using wax and gold as
a catch-all label entails the danger of romanticising mendacity by
calling it wax and gold.

One of the grave shortcomings of
Dr. Levine is that he does not follow his analysis to its logical
conclusion. Although he intimates that wax and gold is
basically a formula used to express one’s thoughts with impunity, he
refrains from analysing the social system which produces this kind of
insecurity. His analysis stops at half way and does not grapple with
the really meaningful problem of the origin and function of wax
and gold
within its social context.

Dr. Levine does point out,
somewhat reluctantly, one negative aspect of wax and gold: "
In so far as Ethiopia is committed to the pursuit of modernity, she
cannot fail to be embarrassed to some extent by the wax-and-gold
complex. For nothing could be more at odds with the ethos of
modernization, if not with its actuality, than a cult of ambiguity."
(p. 10.) But his heart is not really in this tepid observation for he
makes a dazzling somersault and proceeds to extol the virtues and
positive values of wax and gold. He comes to the amazing
conclusion that " the wax-and-gold mentality "
should be regarded not only as an obstacle to Ethiopia’s
modernization but also, by virtue of its contribution to the
continuing effectiveness of her social organization and the
continuing richness of her expressive culture, as a beneficial
agent." (p. 17.)

Dr. Levine’s argument in praise of
the " wax-and-gold mentality " and the " cult
of ambiguity " is based on a number of glittering generalities.
The questionable premise implicit in his assertion—(he does not
argue, he asserts and assumes he has argued)-—is seen clearly
when he writes about how political leaders of the undeveloped
countries can exploit " the ambiguity of traditional symbols."
(p. 16.) In other words, what Dr. Levine is saying is that political
leaders of transitional societies should emulate, for example,
American politicians who oppose integration or socialized medicine or
subsidy to education on the ground that these policies are alien to "
the American way of life." Therefore, if politicians can exploit
" the ambiguity of traditional symbols " and get away with
it, then the cult of ambiguity is " a beneficial agent."
Or, to put it bluntly, hypocrisy is beneficial. Equivocation as a
stylized form of expression is not a phenomenon which descends
from heaven; a social system which forbids free expression of
thought forces it upon its repressed subjects. They use ambiguity,
prevarication, mendacity and dissimulation not only when they have to
express their thoughts but also to survive and to exist. Dr. Levine
simply or, should I say, conveniently forgets that what it pleases
him to call " wax and gold " is a most unfortunate
misnomer for ambiguity and equivocation.

The realities in our contemporary
society—be it in inter-personal relations, administration or
literature-bear eloquent proof that the culture of equivocation is
not fertile ground for the flowering of human values based on
honesty, confidence and equality. Professor Levine as a post-Freud
social scientist will probably find such ideals as a rational social
system or social justice most boring and irrelevant. At any rate it
is to be regretted that Dr. Levine has allowed his personal fondness
for ambiguity to transform an ostensibly scholarly study of wax
and gold
into what can only be called a gospel for equivocation;
a manifesto, as it were, for stylized mendacity institutionalized by
an unjust social system.


Professor Levine’s Wax &
also claims to look " upon Amhara culture as a
history." (p, xiii.) More specifically, Dr. Levine writes: "
The history, ethos and cultural significance of Manz and Gondar are
discussed, partly to provide an introduction to Amhara culture that
has some historical depth, and partly as background to the general
question of the place of primordial sentiments like regionalism in a
modernizing society." (p. 14.) It could be taken as a measure of
Dr. Levine’s sociological sophistication that he has deigned to look
" upon Amhara culture as a way of life " although one may
question whether he has in fact shown the proper qualities of a
historian. The historian, after all, is a practitioner of the
controversial profession.

It is said that Trevelyan observed
with leisurely contemplation the ‘ history-is-science ‘ fad which
raged in England at the turn of the century. But J. B. Bury’s The
Science of History
aroused his impatience and prodded him to
write his polemical essay Clio’s Muse. Trevelyan asked himself
the rhetorical question: "… what are the ‘ laws’ which
historical ‘ science ‘ has discovered in the last forty years since
it cleared the laboratory of those wretched ‘ literary historians’ ?
Finding (albeit not to his surprise), that scientific history
has discovered no laws, he commented caustically: " Medea has
successfully put the old man into the pot, but 1 fail to see the
youth whom she promised us." Lest the " scientific
historians" should miss his thrust, Trevelyan added "
writing history is no child’s play."

That history is still no child’s
play is seen in the savage polemics which periodically enliven the
secluded and cloistered Life of historians. Lytton Strachey, the
amateur historian of Eminent Victorians remarked with his
unfailing penchant for intellectual mischief that " ignorance is
the first requisite of the historian, ignorance which simplifies and
clarifies, which selects and omits." H. Trevor-Roper who,
ordinarily, has no patience with amateurs, could not possibly ignore
such a dim view of historians. To Lytton Strachey, declared
Trevor-Roper, " historical problems were always, and only,
problems of individual behaviour and individual eccentricity.
Historical problems, the problem of politics and society, he never
thought to answer, or even to ask." Indeed, added Trevor-Roper,
the criterion set by Strachey ** was one by which he (Strachey) would
willingly be judged: for he would certainly emerge successful."

James Froude took a more cynical
view of his profession and said " history is a child’s box of
letters with which we can spell any word we please." Oxford’s
philosopher and historian, Robin Collingwood, protested against what
he called " scissors-and-paste history " and attempted to
reconcile philosophy with history.

Edward H. Carr who delivered the
Trevelyan Lectures for 1961 at Cambridge University chose for his
topic the simple-sounding problem: ‘What is history?’ In answering
his own question, Carr said history " is a continuous process of
interaction between the historian and his facts, an unending dialogue
between the present and the past." But, he warned, " before
you study the history, study the historian. Before you study the
historian, study his historical and social environment." He
advised the reader of history to listen out always for the buzzing of
bees in the historian’s bonnet: " If you can detect none, either
you are stone deaf or your historian is a dull dog."

The buzzing in Professor Levine’s
bonnet is, by his own admission and in his own language’, that of the
pragmatist and empirical social scientist. In plain language, it is
that of a bourgeois social scientist. More to the point, Dr. Levine’s
philosophy of history, such as it is, tries to arrest history by
resorting to the " history-as-a-bogey-man " technique.
Indeed, Dr. Levine minces no words in declaring his philosophical,
hence, ideological, commitment not only to the reactionary view of
history but also to the reactionary use of history: " The
experience of history has demonstrated the futility of attempting the
revolutionary implementation of a clear and distinct ideal in human

Such a curious reading of history
and the Eleveneth Commandment on the futility—not to say
sinfulness—of progressive change inscribed by Dr. Levine is
wont to make one see social change as the work of demons. And, as in
the famous saying attributed to Louis-Philippe: pour chasser les
demons, il faudrait un prophète.
view of what Professor Levine himself has said, it cannot be taken as
a lapse of taste to refer to him not only as a historian but also a
prophet of reactionary dogmatism: a prophet who has taken it upon
himself to vanquish the demons of progressive social change.

One of the more important problems
historians are expected to answer is the question: ‘ how did these
things come about?’ But Professor Levine, who has fallen into the
most unfortunate habit of using history to ward off the demons of
social change, uses Ethiopian history to prove his hypothesis;
namely, wax and gold (oral ambivalence) and physical
aggressiveness are the keys to Ethiopian culture and society. In
other words, Dr. Levine resorts to the " scissors-and-paste "
technique of historical research to prove that wax and gold and
aggressiveness are the determinant factors of Ethiopian history. He
also ransacks history to prove that any attempt at radical change is
bound to fail in view of the historical " tenacious
traditionalism " of the Amhara peasants.

Consider how he treats Ethiopian
history: "The six centuries of Ethiopian history that end with
the conquests of Menelik—a historical unity which circumscribes
the matured Amhara culture—may be divided into three main
episodes: synthesis (1270-1527), in which the might and Christian
culture of Ethiopia was consolidated and expanded; shock (1527-1633),
in which the Ethiopian body politic was dealt a series of severe
blows; and recovery (1633-1900), in which Ethiopia laboured to
resurrect itself—first through Gondar, then Tigre and
Shoa—until its ancient order began to be threatened by the
demands of a modern world." (p. 18)

The Hegelian sweep and Freudian
insight (shock, severe blows, recovery) is most dazzling—but
only momentarily. Does Dr. Levine mean to say Ethiopia has no history
prior to 1270? And why does he decide to make Ethiopian history begin
in 1270? Presumably, Dr. Levine means to answer these questions when
he elaborates on the " episode of synthesis " by saying: "
Following the ascendance of the Shoan Amhara in 3270, Amhara-Tigre
society attained a kind of medieval prosperity."

When Dr. Levine feels like it, he
uses the word " Amhara," sometimes he uses " Shoan
Amhara," sometimes speaks of the " House of Manz,"
sometimes "Amhara-Tigre society," at times, "Abyssinia";
he even resurrects the non-existent " Ethiopia "—it
is as if he is simply having a marvellous time proving his Grand
Theory and he has need of various labels and objects.

Dr. Levine concludes his espresso
history of his curious two "Houses" with a melodramatic
flourish: " Aleqa Gabra Hanna, cultivated literatus, was in a
sense the epitome of the Gondare ethos, just as Menelik II,
determined fighter as well as shrewd politician and tactful diplomat,
was morally as well as genealogically akin to the men of Manz. The
Imperial Court at the end of the nineteenth century, flushed with the
reports of Menelik’s conquests and embellished by the wax and gold
of Aleqa Gabra Hanna was a kind of traditional climax. . . ,"

The ‘ key ‘ to Dr. Levine’s
curious revision of Ethiopian history lies in this mish-mash of "
embellished wax and gold " and " flushed conquests."
He has a theory that Ethiopian history can be interpreted in terms of
the " apparent contradiction " between the oral
equivocation and physical aggressiveness of Ethiopians. So he divides
Ethiopia into Two Houses to accommodate the two " cultural
elements." The House of Gondar stands for equivocation (wax and
gold); the House of Manz stands for aggressiveness. The ethos of
Gondar is equivocation; the " ideal type " of its ethos is
Aleqa Gabra Hanna. The ethos of Manz is physical aggressiveness (Mot
Ged yallam—never
mind about death4), the "
ideal type " of its ethos is Menelik II. The hypothesis is
tested against a made-to-measure version of Ethiopian history
[Synthesis or the House of Gondar (1270-1527)—Shock or the
Grand Invasion (1527-1633)—Recovery or the House of Manz
(1633-1900).] Voila! The theory is
vindicated by History and the key to Ethiopian history, the key to
the spirit and culture of Ethiopians has been discovered by Dr.
Levine. C’est magnifique2 mais ce n’est pas l’histoire.


Dr. Levine observed and studied "
Amhara peasant culture " in Manz. But he has taken it for
granted that the world will share his presumption: namely, that his
fairly brief study of " Amhara peasants" in Manz entitles
him to write authoritatively on Beghemeder, Semien, Gojjam, Wollo,
etc. under the generic name of " Amhara culture." Moreover,
Dr. Levine does not find it necessary to explain why he assumes that
the empirical data he gathered in Manz can be taken to be as also
applicable to and representative of the social realities, the
institutions, the customs and traditions of Shoa itself, or Gojjam,
or Beghemeder. Leaving aside such simple, but by no means
unimportant, questions about the scientific or empirical quality of
the book, what exactly do we learn from Dr. Levine’s analyses of "
Amhara culture as an outlook on life, a way of growing up, as a
social structure and as a combination of opposites"? Consider
"the world of the Amhara peasant" as seen by Dr. Levine. He
tries to disarm his critics by saying his " rhetorical aim is
chiefly to bring the little known peasant into sharper focus, to
reaffirm the peasant world as one worthy of attention and respect"
(p. 14), and assures us that his " account is based on seven
months of residence among the Amhara peasantry, using the
observational techniques of participant behaviour, discreet
questioning, analysis of folk expressions and Thematic Apperception
Tests (TAT)." (p. 56.)

We are told that " the
average homestead consists of from one to six small structures."
More specifically, " a well equipped homestead will have one
building for eating and sleeping, one for animals, one for grain
storage, one for a kitchen and one for entertaining guests"; and
that "… one or more servants-slaves, until a generation
ago-complete the household." (p. 56.) It also appears that:
" work begins in the
peasant’s home well before daybreak. His (the peasant’s) wife or
maid-servant rises with the first cockcrow to grind grain. . . . Then
he or one of the boys take the oxen and cow for breakfast, to a pile
of hay in the yard or a spot of pasture rich with grass . . . (the
peasant) has injara and sauce for breakfast. He eats by
himself slowly, pondering the work of the day . . . The peasant
leaves with his older sons or manservants for the fields . , . If the
peasant is working in a distant field, his wife carries lunch out to
him—or else risks being beaten with a stick … If he is not
far away he comes home for lunch, which he eats together with his
wife. They talk about what each has done during the morning and what
remains to be done. The peasant may retire for a nap, and perhaps to
lie with his wife, before taking up the afternoon’s work. . . . (In
the evening) they start munching roasted grains, injara or
clabo. They may drink some talla and relax . . . The
family is together, and everyone enjoys talking and hearing about the
homely events of the day. A few hours after dark, supper is served.
Parents and older children eat together out of a common basket.
Younger children and servants stand respectfully, awaiting their turn
…" (pp. 58-60.)

Dr. Levine does not tell us if
this happy and contented " peasant family," teeming with
man-servants and maidservants, watch Dr. Kildare or Soccer World
Championship on TV before they retire to bed. A peasant who has
several " structures," one for eating, one for kitchen, one
for guests, etc., a peasant who has man-servants and maid-servants, a
peasant who goes to his field followed by his man-servants, a peasant
who takes a siesta after lunch-but then why go on when such a "
peasant " simply exists in the esoteric pages of Wax &
It is obvious that Dr. Levine has met and observed some
members of the relatively well-off Amhara landed gentry in Manz and
he has mistaken them for peasants.

But Dr. Levine will not allow us
to dismiss him so easily. Much like the Knights-errant of Yoredays,
he has flung down his gauntlet and dismissed " modernist
Ethiopians," historians, ethnographers, foreign aid technicians
and even the long-dead travellers of the nineteenth century as
ignorant fools who neither know nor care about the peasant, (pp.
55-56.) One can easily imagine his response to the statement that his
observations are about the landed gentry and not the
peasantry. He has " penetrated " Manz, he has lived for
seven months amongst the peasants, he has asked them " discreet
questions" and studied them using his " observational
techniques of participant behavior." A valid point.

Let us assume the " peasants
" Dr. Levine is writing about are indeed peasants and not the
landed gentry. What does he tell us about the peasant with several
buildings? We are told about his homestead, we are told about his
man-servants, we are told that his boys take the oxen and cows out
for breakfast (yes, breakfast), we are told that the peasant takes a
siesta after lunch, and finally Dr. Levine cannot resist the
temptation to tell us that the peasant may " perhaps lie with
his wife " before taking up the afternoon’s work. Is it not
significant that we are not told whether the " peasant "
owns the land he is tilling? The most crucial question of land
ownership is dismissed by Dr. Levine in one curious sentence: "
While most peasants plow land whose use is theirs by hereditary right
(rist), some are tenants on estates owned by the king, lords,
monasteries, or older relatives." (p. 56.)

It is clear that Dr. Levine does
not want to raise the question of land ownership; he does not even
want to admit—although he does not deny it—that the
overwhelming majority of peasants do not own land. What does
he mean by the woolly phrase: "while most peasants plow land
whose use is theirs by hereditary right . . ."? On what
documentary and statistical evidence is the statement based?
Moreover, is it the land or the use of the land which belong to "
most peasants " ? Is Dr. Levine writing about all Amhara
peasants in Ethiopia or peasants in Manz?

It must be emphasised that this
point is important for two reasons. First, as has already been
intimated, the " key " to Ethiopia lies in the land system.
Secondly, it illustrated how Dr. Levine glosses over this most
important question with ingenious circumlocution and contrived
sentences that tend to conceal more than they reveal. It is,
unfortunately, through such subtle and ambiguous sentences that Dr.
Levine tends—and, indeed sometimes deliberately designs—to
obscure the crucial issues and to refrain from historical
objectivity. While it may be unfair to infer that to Professor Levine
the peasant’s post-prandial sexual bout appears to be more important
than the question of land-ownership, one must nonetheless remark that
one is awe-struck by " the observational techniques of
participant behavior " employed by the scholar to observe and
record for history the exact time at which " the Amhara peasant"
fulfils his marital obligations.

Nevertheless the questions must be
posed: Does the peasant own the land? If not, then exactly who? How
many kinds of taxes does the peasant pay ? Who pays the tax in lieu
of tithe—the peasant or the landlord? What percentage of his
produce does the tenant hand over to the land-owner? Is there any
kind of uniform ceiling regarding the land-rent which a landlord can
exact from his tenant? What kind of legal and institutional relations
exist between the tenant and the landlord ? Which party does the
prevailing system favour? To Dr. Levine, such questions are
apparently irrelevant. It cannot be said that questions such as these
are outside the scope of Wax & Gold for the author claims
that his book is a study of Amhara peasant society and culture. Any
book which purports to be a study of Ethiopian peasant society and
culture without delving into the problem of land ownership is not
merely irrelevant; it is also obscurantist.

Since Dr. Levine fancies himself
as the Protector of the Ethiopian peasantry, he concludes his
rhetorical chapter on " the Amhara peasant" with an
emotion-charged denunciation of " modernist Ethiopians "
and another ringing manifesto on the " humanitarian "
philosophy of the peasant. (We need not be concerned with his
denunciation of the " modernist Ethiopians" for the simple
reason that, by and large, their " modernist views" cannot
be taken seriously.) Professor Levine makes the commonplace
observation that " the peasant clings to traditional ways with
unruffled tenacity " and illustrates this " tenacious
traditionalism " with a most touching incident. It turns out
that a peasant—" an unusually open-minded " one at
that—was complaining about the dangers presented by a
troublesome stream. Dr. Levine suggested to the peasant: "… if
you can’t put up some kind of bridge, why do you not stretch a heavy
rope across it so people can hold on to something and not be swept
away?" The unusually open-minded peasant replied: " That is
a good idea, but we just do not do that sort of thing here." (p.

The author assures us that the "
tenacious traditionalism " of the peasant is not due " to
simple laziness " but to " a number of fundamental features
in Amhara. peasant culture " such as the following:

"… the concept of fate
(eddil) which the Amhara invoke to account for the ups and
downs of their lives . . . The peasant is discouraged from determined
efforts to make changes in his environment because of the feeling
that no matter what he does, God’s disposition is what really counts
… In addition to feeling that innovation is ineffectual, the Amhara
peasant tends to feel that it is immoral . . . Experimentation with
matter was inhibited by the disdain for puttering about with one’s
hands—doing anything, that is, similar to the activities of the
socially dejected artisans and slaves . . . Experimentation with
ideas was inhibited by the anti-intellectual cast of Amhara culture,
which discredits the pursuit of ideas for their own sake . . .
Another feature of Amhara culture that helps to account for the
mental inertia of the peasantry is its emphasis on the value of
deference and obedience to authority … " (pp. 86-88.)

The passage has been quoted at
length to indicate that what Dr. Levine has to say about the
traditionalism of the peasant is anatomy, not analysis. He
breaks up traditionalism into what he believes are its various forms:
eddil (concept of fate); belief in the immorality of
innovation and ineffectuality of innovation; disdain for manual
experimentation; anti-intellectual cast of culture (inhibition
against experimentation with ideas); and, deference and obedience to
authority. But while this refined anatomy is admirable, it obscures
the forceful role the prevailing system plays in maintaining
traditionalism by assigning equal dynamic force and weight to all the
so-called " multiple-causes," Indeed as C. Wright Mills
observed in his Sociological Imagination, the
multiplicity-of-causes technique used by bourgeois social scientists
falls into the perspective of liberal practicality: "… for if
everything is caused by innumerable ‘ factors,’ then we had best be
very careful in any practical actions we undertake. We must deal with
many details, and so it is advisable to proceed to reform this little
piece and see what happens, before we reform that little piece too."
In effect, and as C. Wright Mills put it in his inimitable lucidity,
the ‘ multiple-factor,’ the ‘ multiplicity-of-causes ‘ techniques,
the impressive ‘ scientific ‘ methods of bourgeois social science "
do make it difficult to understand the structure of the status
They are meant to do precisely that.

The various features in "
Amhara peasant culture which orient the peasantry against the
introduction of novelty " are natural by-products of the social
system, the relation of domination and subordination. What is ‘
eddil,’ the concept of fate, the concept of the futility of
man’s endeavour? Why is the peasant " discouraged from making
determined efforts to make change in his environment" ? Why does
he feel that no matter what he does, God’s disposition is what really
counts? Is this concept then, as Dr. Levine would have us believe, an
objective thing called " eddil" with its own dynamic
force? If the reasoning behind " eddil" is that
God’s disposition is what really counts, where does the earthly
representative of God, the Church, come vis-a-vis the
peasant’s resignation? What is behind " the feeling that
innovation is ineffectual, that innovation is immoral "? Who
sets the norms, the values, the laws of the society? Who decides,
promulgates and preaches what is ineffectual and what is immoral?
What about the taboo against "experimentation with matter"?
Why are peasants discouraged from " puttering with their hands"?
Why are " socially dejected artisans" not allowed to own
land? Who decides on this specialization of labour, that clan A shall
be a peasant clan and shall not " putter with its hands "
and that clan B shall be an artisan clan and shall not own land?
Tradition, yes. But who sets the tradition ?

To Dr. Levine, these are merely
multiple " features . . . which orient the peasantry against the
introduction of novelty " and that’s all there is to it. To be
sure he notes en passant and, one may add, with his unfailing
nonchalance for crucial issues, that " the peasant has thus
refrained from initiating changes because the prerogative of taking
initiative is generally reserved to ecclesiastical and political
authorities." But Dr. Levine is simply building obscurantist
walls of " multiple causes " for " tenacious
traditionalism.1‘ What is most perplexing and curious
about Dr. Levine’s argument is his intolerant insistence that the
peasant is tradition-bound, his " anatomy " of
traditionalism which seems to indicate that the system is more or
less responsible for the peasant’s traditionalism, and his bizarre
conclusion that in view of the peasant’s traditionalism, the
modernist viewpoint is not only hysterical but sheer foolery.

Is the peasant then a hopeless
traditionalist? Not exactly, says Dr. Levine: although the Amhara
peasant is against the introduction of novelty, the view that the
peasant is " incorrigibly recalcitrant and reactionary is a
rather shallow one." (p. 92.) We are told that " while the
Amhara peasant is likely to resist the efforts of some unknown
official from Addis Ababa to introduce change in his local
environment, he does tend to follow the directives and imitate the
example of the local authorities whom he knows …" Proof: "
Thus it is … that the eucalyptus tree—imported by Emperor
Menelik, taken to the provinces by the nobles, and eventually planted
by individual peasants—has come to dot the Amhara countryside."
(p. 88.)

Dr. Levine’s " historical
proof" is a brilliant guess-but a guess all the same. The
introduction of the eucalyptus tree was more than a mere "
change in (the) local environment." It solved one of the
immemorial economic problems of the society. The destruction of
forests and the subsequent acute shortage of wood was what
necessitated the introduction of the eucalyptus tree. The picture of
the nobles of Menelik galloping on horse-back to their provinces to "
introduce" the eucalyptus tree is admittedly romantic but it is
a romantic figment. The eucalyptus tree was more than a change in the
environment: it was, as it still is, a valuable form of property; it
was, as it still is, used to build tukuls; it was, and it still is,
used as firewood; it was, as it still is, a valuable commodity which
can fetch a good price. What Dr. Levine’s example does show—if
anything—is that the ruling class is no different from other
ruling classes throughout the world; it is selectively receptive to
those innovations which augment its wealth.

Dr. Levine warns us that "…
the Amhara peasant will not imitate everything that is accepted by
his traditional authorities. When a new custom strikes him as too
outlandish his resistance can become adamant, as was abundantly
demonstrated when the Court of Susneyos carried out its ill-fated
conversion to Catholicism." (p. 88.) But one suspects that what
is being " abundantly demonstrated" is not the peasant’s "
adamant resistance " to change but, in point of fact. Dr.
Levine’s own " adamant resistance " to see meaningful
social change and modernism take place among the peasantry.

Having cited from his historical
grab-bag all sorts of examples (a make-shift rope ‘ bridge,’
photography, Catholicism, eucalyptus trees, etc.) to prove that
piecemeal reform—implemented, no doubt, in accordance with the
directives issued by a Politburo of pragmatist social scientists—is
the only kind of change acceptable to the peasant, Dr. Levine makes
the observation that the peasant’s receptivity to change are based on
two " independent variables ":

  1. The degree of acceptability of
    the agents of change;

  2. The extent to which the
    proposed change is
    congruent with traditional beliefs and

" Independent variable No. 1
" disqualifies the modern Ethiopian because the peasant "
regards Ethiopians who have been educated by Westerners as
contaminated by alien norms and beliefs." Apparently, the "
educated Ethiopians " appear to the peasant " as
Ethiopians, but also as strangers—as black faranj—
with their European clothes and their unorthodox eating and
smoking habits. He (the peasant) tends to distrust their motives, to
suspect them of being out to take advantage of him in some way."
(p. 90.) If the " modern educated Ethiopian " is decidedly
out of the question as an agent of change, then who, indeed who? The
answer is all too obvious: those who worship under the Idol of
Pragmatism and Empirical Social Science. But there’s the rub: if the
pragmatist social scientist is essentially a reactionary with a
veneer of pragmatic varnish, how can we also have him as an agent of
meaningful and thorough-going social change? Is it really, as Dr.
Levine would have us believe, a question of " the apparent
contradiction "?

Giuseppe de Lampadusa saw through
the screen of the " apparent contradiction " technique when
he had one of the characters in his novel The Leopard say: "
If you want things to stay as they are, things will have to change."
If Dr. Levine is not, in effect, saying that, then he has merely
reversed the order: " If you want things to change, things will
have to stay as they are."

But that is not all: Professor
Levine is not to be satisfied with having " things stay as they
are." He would like—indeed he exhorts—the "
modem educated Ethiopians " to be reborn in the spit and image
of the peasant. Dr. Levine admonishes the modern-educated Ethiopians
for having heretical views and for being " clearly out of touch
with traditional Amhara mentality." He urges them to seek "
alternatives to a purist, sentimental, and somewhat hysterical
approach to politics," and promises them that once they do so, "
they may find themselves nourished by contact, through personal
communication, or through the medium of literature, with the "
cooler ‘ approach of the Amhara peasant." (p. 93.) Redemption is
theirs if the modern educated Ethiopians would only believe, behave
and act like the peasant. And how does the peasant, who has gained
Salvation, behave and act? What are his beliefs? Dr. Levine’s opus
Sermon is precisely that:

"… (The Amhara peasant is
cautious) about the intentions of others. He (the peasant) does not
assume that others may be benevolently disposed toward him; he
suspects that behind every protestation of admiration and fealty
lurks some quest for personal advantage. He does not assume that
superior social status entails superior moral worth. Wryly commenting
on his ambivalence toward superiors toward whom he shows such
deference, he describes his posture as one of ‘ bowing in front, and
passing gas in the rear.’ In short, he is on guard at all times,
coping with presumed selfishness and hypocrisy of others and pursuing
his own interests in a very sober and manipulative way. (But) the
Amhara peasant’s low estimate of man’s potential does not bring him
to a position of rejecting man.

On the contrary man is accepted,
with all his frailties, for what he is. The Amhara’s patterns of life
are shaped, neither to overwhelm man with guilt for his shortcomings,
nor to pressure him into personal or social reform, nor to deprive
his worldly existence of all enjoyment and significance, but rather
to accommodate human realities and transcendent values to one another
in such, a way that neither is seriously compromised . . . The Amhara
peasant’s outlook is both realistic and humanitarian. He does not
expect political leaders to be morally pure, for he understands that
all men are imperfect: saw yallam. He is not upset by the ‘
selfishness ‘ and ‘ insincerity ‘ of Realpolitik . . .
because realpolitik is the stuff of his life … He seeks
practical arrangements whereby human interests can be furthered and
human conflicts can be contained." (pp. 93-94.)

Professor Levine concludes his

" In so far as this
characteristic orientation of Amhara peasant culture comes to
permeate the outlook of Ethiopia’s modernizers—and it has never
been wholly absent—it may help to reduce the intensity of those
unrealistic demands and inhumanitarian impulses which are endemic in
a society in transition to modernity." (p. 94.)

Dr. Levine’s idealization of the "
humanitarian " and at the same time, " realistic
orientation " of the peasan, cannot conceal the unpleasant fact
that his ostensibly empirical study of the peasant has degenerated
into a heady tract of a mountebank moralist. Stripped of all its
double-talk and its seedy romanticism, he is simply asserting that
cynicism, obsequiousness, inherent suspicious-ness and lack of
confidence in fellow human beings are humanitarian values and that
these " virtues " ought to permeate the outlook of "
Ethiopia’s modernizers." All serious students of the peasant
societies in the undeveloped countries—including the ones
already quoted above—have come to the sobering conclusion that
the main problem is the insecurity of the peasant and that the basic
condition of modernization is to remedy the peasant’s lack of
confidence in his fellow man (i.e. change the social system). We now
have in Professor Levine a giddy moralist who exhorts "
Ethiopia’s modernizers " and the modern-educated Ethiopians to
imitate the peasant’s insecurity and lose confidence in their fellow
human beings. The Ethiopian peasant seeks to survive by
obsequiousness, cynicism, suspicious-ness and by " bowing in
front while passing gas in the rear." To Dr. Levine this is
humanitarian orientation at its best.

To put it simply, Dr. Levine’s
sermon is based on a total moral bankruptcy which equates cynicism
and opportunism with humanitarianism. There is underneath his cheap
moralizing not merely a palpable hollowness, not merely an appalling,
omnivorous amorality, but an abysmal cynicism as wilful as the "
purist " dogmatism he tries to deride. Since Professor Levine
has baptised cynicism, opportunism and all the unpleasant human
weaknesses which thrive in a defective social system as humanitarian
orientations, it is quite understandable that he should denounce
those who would like to do away with these social ills as "
inhumanitarian." One does not really need a dictionary of
Newspeak to get one’s bearing in Professor Levine’s Utopia: all one
has to do is simply use what students of logic call the Idiosyncratic


As Professor Levine has subtitled
his book " Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopian Culture,"
it is to be expected that he should address himself to the problem of
the modern-educated Ethiopians. He has found that " the foreign
educated Ethiopians tend to become intellectually demoralized on
returning home," (p. 191) and that "… for most of them,
coming home means a cessation of the most elementary intellectual
functions other than those to perform their jobs." (p. 192.)
Frustration, according to Dr. Levine, " is the central quality "
of the intellectuals. The new elites " are intellectually aware
of the traditional nature of their society but emotionally unprepared
to cope with the tenacity of tradition or with the paucity of modern
institutions and culture." (ibid)

The few anonymous Ethiopian "
intellectuals " who are quoted by Dr. Levine are indeed
caricatures of tragicomedy: one intellectual expressed the
frustration of his group, " there is a wound, a boiling within
each and every one of the returnees." (p. 198.) Most of the "
intellectuals " quoted in the book tend to show a consistent
inclination for self-pity. They all inform Dr. Levine they are
hopelessly frustrated, they wail about their lives, and wallow in
maudlin self-pity. One or two utter words of unmitigated disgust. At
any rate, it is distressing to note that the " intellectuals "
quoted in the book—and one hopes Dr. Levine’s sample is not
truly representative of the " intellectuals " of
Ethiopia—have failed to discern, perhaps because of their
intellectual dishonesty, that their so-called frustration is but a
convenient cover for their own apathy.

There is no question that Dr.
Levine has found the atmosphere of contemporary Ethiopian society as
one which tends to smother the flickering intellectual awareness and
consciousness of the new elites. But he has also been perceptive
enough to see through a great deal of the sham of the "
intellectuals " and intimates that they are no less morally
guilty than the system itself for their banal existence. One of the
most disturbing statements quoted by Dr. Levine is one which is
attributed to a foreign-educated Ethiopian who says: "The
‘locals’ have as much right to live in the land as the returnees and
as much duty to help the country. … I have no contempt for the ‘
locals,’ and some of them are my best friends." (p. 211.) Dr.
Levine cites this statement to indicate "the sympathy "
felt by some foreign-educated Ethiopians toward the locals, but one
suspects he says so with tongue in cheek. All told, the "
intellectuals" quoted in Wax & Gold corns out as a
seedy, silly lot living in the cloud-cuckoo land of self-imposed and
desolate exile: " young elites " who, justifiably, if not
fortunately, have become " old elites " without the benefit
and joy of exhilarating youth.

According to Dr. Levine, the "
intelligentsia " reacts to the " situation of strain "
by four types of responses: opportunism, withdrawal, reformism and

" Opportunism
is the mode of adaptation in which the returnee’s commitment to
modern goals and norms is eclipsed by his passion for status, power
and income. Withdrawal is the solution of those who have
retained their principles at the expense of being
effectual in action. Reformism
involves the attempt both to maintain principles and to be
effective in action under the existing political order. Rebellion
(is) the attempt … to be active in the pursuit of modern goals
but in a spirit of basic alienation from the existing authorities."
(pp. 204-205.)

Professor Levine then proceeds to
pass judgement (in terms of passing and failing marks) upon these
four responses. (Table 14, p. 204.) He awards to " Opportunism
" a minus mark (failure) in " Commitment to modern
values," a plus mark (pass) in " Acceptance of existing
authorities," and another plus (pass) in " Activity."
The " Withdrawal " response receives a plus in "
Commitment to modern values," but two minus marks in "
Acceptance of existing authorities " and " Activity."
Rebellion fails in " Acceptance of existing authorities "
but passes in the other two categories. Reformism receives
plus marks (pass) in all three categories. Thus, Reformism having
received from Dr. Levine plus marks (i.e. 100%) in all categories
comes out as the best possible type of response.

Professor Levine also presents a "
case study " of a Western-educated Ethiopian (" Haile ")
" who went from a phase of Withdrawal to one of Reformism
tinged with Opportunism." The " case study"
covers the period from October 1958 to June 1960: "Haile"
is depressed and frustrated at first and manifests all symptoms of
the " Withdrawal" response. Gradually, he takes more
interest in his job, is less intolerant of inefficiency, etc.,
begins, so to speak, to " see things " and initiates little
reforms in his office. He is promoted, he gets married to " a
simple, traditional sort of Ethiopian girl." He lives in an "
old, poorly built structure that is falling apart," but he even
has a radio set at home, and " he looks forward to the prospects
of building a house on their own land sometime in the future.
Meanwhile a baby is on the way. . . . The circle has come full swing.
Haile talks proudly about his work, his family, and his country."
(pp. 206-207.)

Thus, in a matter of twenty
months, the returnee changed his position or " response "
from that of " Withdrawal" to "Reformism."
It is all too obvious from the " case study " that the
returnee has moved up from the level of a fresh, university graduate
and joined the ranks of the lumpen-bourgeoisie; the class of
government clerks and petty merchants and a class which stands to
benefit from snail-pace reformism. As a pragmatist, Dr. Levine also
believes in ever-so-cautious, tepid meliorism. But he assumes that
what is most agreeable to his own turn of mind and which,
co-incidentally, is also in the best interest of the petit-bourgeois,
ought to be and, indeed, is in the best interest of
Ethiopia. One doubts very much whether Professor Levine himself will
consider his little paradigm of plus and minus marks as a scientific
proof that atomized meliorism is the best means of attaining
socio-economic progress.

Dr. Levine is of the opinion that
" the development of a self-respecting intelligentsia has been
effectively restrained and its decisive ascendance as a new elite has
been prevented." (p. 216.) The " paramount sociological
problem in Ethiopia," he adds " in the coming decades
concerns whether or not this pattern will break." He feels two
conditions are essential if the problem is to be solved:

" One is that the systematic,
if unwitting, demoralization of the intellectuals will have to be
ended. Some sphere would have to be created in which universalistic
standards have full sway, in which a modernizing intelligentsia can
maintain and develop standards and transmit them to younger
elements." (p. 216.)

" The other condition is that
the intellectuals themselves will have to break out of their posture
of defeatism and negativism." (p. 217.) But Professor Levine
doubts whether the intellectuals of Ethiopia are capable of breaking
out " of their posture of defeatism and negativism." He
observes that " their behavior has been marked by a conspicuous
absence of creative leadership and solidary action " and
suggests this is due to " factors which are inhibitive of
creative leadership." (pp. 218-219.) According to Dr. Levine,
the main factor inhibiting " creative leadership " is "
the posture of dependence " peculiar to Ethiopians: a tendency
which is " endemic in traditional Amhara-Tigre culture." He
notes that the " modern Abyssinians who exhibit it (posture of
dependence) are following an inclination deeply rooted in the needs
they have acquired and the culture they have internalized in their
childhood " (p. 219) and proceeds to suggest a psychoanalytic
interpretation of this " inhibitive factor."


The late British historian Sir
Lewis Namier is generally credited with having influenced historians
to pay more than passing attention to the psychological aspects of
the character and temper of historical personalities and epochs.
Indeed such was his meticulous preoccupation with psycho-analytic
concepts that an anonymous writer for The Times Literary
accused him of taking mind out of history. The
historian was stung by the remark to defend his position in a
now-celebrated essay: Human nature and politics.

Sir Lewis conceded that "
history is primarily, and to a growing extent, made by man’s mind and
nature, but his mind does not work with the rationality that was once
deemed its noblest attribute—which does not, however, mean that
it necessarily works any better." He reiterated his conviction
that one of the most important lines of advance for history will be
through a knowledge of psychology. But, he warned, " care is
required in applying psychology. The unqualified practitioner must
not be let loose, not even on the dead, and a mere smattering of
psychology is likely to result in superficial, hasty judgments framed
in a nauseating jargon."

Unfortunately, the contemporary
temper of scholarship is such that a swarm of pseudo-qualified or
simply unqualified practitioners of Freudian hocus-pocus have been
let loose not on the dead but on the living peoples of the
non-Western world. It is hardly possible to find a social scientist
who has not practiced a game or two of " Freudian interpretation
" on the culture and society of a backward country. It is
therefore understandable that Professor Levine too should allow
himself the licence to indulge in this unfortunate pastime of
bourgeois scholars. What is indeed pleasantly surprising—undoubtedly
a measure of his basic integrity—is that he avoids the most
wildly speculative Freudian mumbo-jumbo and limits his remarks to a
thoughtful consideration of " certain kinds of motivational
orientation " widely shared among Ethiopians by stressing some
psycho-analytic concepts and insights, (p. 219.)

Coulbeaux, the late
nineteenth-century Lazarist missionary, who was perplexed and.
distressed by the peculiar Christianity of Ethiopians, consoled
himself by reflecting that the Ethiopians, even though Christians
were, after all, Abyssinians. It is as if to Coulbeaux, and to so
many other observers like him, the word Abyssinian not merely implied
but actually meant inherent contradiction. Or, as Perham was to put
it about half a century later, " the most violent contradictions
are characteristically Ethiopian."

One of the more penetrating, even
if purposely tentative, chapters in Dr. Levine’s book is his section
on the orality-fixation of Ethiopians. The paradoxical Ethiopian
pendulum swinging from unspeakable cruelty to open-hearted
generosity, from obsequiousness to haughty pride, from gluttony to
asceticism can perhaps be better understood if seen from a
perspective which resorts to Freudian insight. To Dr. Levine, the
lack of confidence, the posture of dependence or the " tendency
to over-dependence " exhibited by Ethiopians is " a
tendency endemic in traditional Amhara-Tigre culture." Put
briefly, Dr. Levine expounds his incisive thesis of Abyssinian
over-dependence by observing that " in Amhara action or fantasy
the social modality of getting’ figures very prominently," a
prominence which reflects a fixation of libido on the oral zone. He
suggests the Abyssinian preoccupation with orality is manifest in
three kinds of phenomena: oral erotism, oral sadism and oral

The permissive and over-extended
custom of breastfeeding from two to three years and the abrupt
weaning marks permanently the Abyssinian child who " is
nostalgic forever after for the warmth and security of his earliest
years, a condition vividly associated with the experience of sucking
at the breast." (p. 221.) Dr. Levine relates this association of
emotional security with breast feeding to the widely-practiced
institution of " breast father " in which an adult
renounces—at least symbolically—his parentage and tries
to achieve material and emotional security by becoming the "
breast child " of an important and superior personality. The
Ethiopian compulsion to kiss friends, relatives, strangers, books,
food, buildings or simply the ground, can, of course, be taken as a
form of oral-erotism, (p. 222.) The notorious gluttony of Ethiopians
or, as Dr. Levine puts it in one of his rare understatements, "
eating and drinking for their own sake, beyond what is required for
nutrition," is the most obvious form of oral erotism, (p. 224.)

I believe it was Cervantes who
said it was hunger that drives a man to reproduce himself, the hunger
for bread changing into a hunger for love, life, survival. To the
Ethiopian, hunger or tchigar or rahab (one says it with
a quick, biting movement of the mouth as if one wants to bite hunger
itself) is a real terror; food, unlimited food, is a means of warding
off the terror of physical hunger which is also a hunger for life,
for love, for security. Sarto mablat (having worked, to eat)
does not merely imply, as Dr. Levine points out rightly, a sense of
independence; it also implies " a constant preoccupation with
the need to eat." All social occasions are reduced to eating;
social activities are referred to in terms of eating or drinking, (p.
224.) One does not receive a bribe, one " eats bribe "; if
one is in a loving mood, one refers to the loved one in terms of
one’s stomach. The stomach is not merely the seat of security, it is
also the seat of love, the seat of wisdom. Patriotism too, it seems,
is explained in terms of eating. Addis Zaman interviewed
recently an elderly gentleman to solicit his opinion on the issue of
Djibouti. His reply was classic: " She (Ethiopia) has fed me;
she has reared me, she has fed me raw meat; for such a country, for
such a land where I have poured (drunk?) tej as if it is water—I
am ready to die!" (Addis Zaman, 23 September 1966). State
banquets, taskars, religious obligations (feeding the poor),
fasting (denial of food being the highest sacrifice), and gluttony
are not unrelated phenomena. They indicate as Dr. Levine argues
convincingly, " Abyssinian preoccupation with orality."

Although Professor Levine uses the
orthodox Freudian term " oral character," it seems he does
not adhere to the mechanistic Freudian dogma which holds that
character is formed for good during the first five years of infancy.
Indeed the few references he makes to the ‘ welfare ‘ atmosphere of
government schools, etc., would suggest that he uses a
psycho-analytic approach while accepting the neo-Freudian concept
that cultural and environmental factors play a large part in
determining a basic personality structure. Leaving aside the purely
academic argument between Freudians and neo-Freudians (although it is
hardly possible to label Erich Fromm, Helen Horney, et al., as
neo-Freudians) and given the paucity of material at hand, can we say,
even if tentatively, that the Abyssinian method of child-rearing plus
the Abyssinian cultural environment produce an Abyssinian with marked
tendencies for orality-fixation or, to use Fromm’s term, receptive
orientation? Dr. Levine’s masterly presentation of the Abyssinian
child-rearing system and of the preoccupation with feasting and
fasting, with its attendant psychological ramifications, does
indicate their over-dependent and receptive orientation. Such a
tentative conclusion or, rather, an assumption, brings us to the
question of nature versus nurture or, as the British psychologist J.
A. C. Brown put it: "does the hen (culture) come from the egg
(childhood) or the egg from the hen?" The orthodox
psycho-analysts believe the egg (childhood) has the answer; social
scientists prefer the hen. Some social scientists opt for both the
egg and the hen, but such a position, according to J. A. C. Brown, "
is tantamount to saying half a hen lays an egg, from that egg we get
the other half of the hen." (Freud and the Post-Freudians.)

To Erich Fromm, this question "
is not as difficult to answer as it may seem at first glance."
(Beyond the Chains of Illusion.) He argues that we must
differentiate between " the factors which are responsible for
the particular contents of the social character and the method
by which the social character is produced." That is to say, the
structure of society and the function of the individual in the social
structure may be considered to determine the contents of the social
character while " the family may be considered to be the psychic
agency of society, the institution which has the function of
transmitting the requirements of society to the growing child."
From this perspective, Fromm has developed the concept of social
character as opposed to the Freudian concept of character as a
manifestation of various features of libidinal strivings. Fromm’s
concept of social character refers " to the matrix of the
character structure common to a group … (a) particular structure of
psychic energy which is moulded by any given society so as to be
useful for the functioning of that particular society."
(Socialist Humanism, ed. by Erich Fromm.)

Hence, a given social structure in
a given specific historical period will produce its social character:
"A member of a primitive people living from assaulting and
robbing other tribes, must have the character of a warrior, with a
passion for war, killing, and robbing. The members of a peaceful,
agricultural tribe must have an inclination for co-operation as
against violence. Feudal society functions well only if its members
have a striving for submission to authority, and respect and
admiration for those who are their superiors." And this social
character, according to Fromm, " is reinforced by all the
instruments of influence available to a society: its educational
system, its religion, its literature, its songs, its jokes, its
customs, and most of all, its parents’ method of bringing up their

One is compelled to stress the
important role of social structure in character formation because Dr.
Levine tends to minimize its importance by focusing on libidinal
fixation: a feudal system happens to be the habitat of over-dependent
and receptive-orientated people. Dr. Levine’s observation that
modern-educated Ethiopians, " by tending to relate to their
environment in a passive-receptive mode of getting, in an active
sadistic mode akin to infantile petulance, or in a state of guilt and
anxiety concerning elementary gratification . . . follow a type of
adjustment which is inadequate to the challenge of the present
situation " is all too obvious, (p. 237.) But the weakness of
psycho-analytic theory lies precisely therein: awareness of libidinal
strivings and anxieties may have its value in psycho-therapy for the
individual; unfortunately, the same cannot be said for society.
Indeed, the application of psycho-analytic concepts to political
theory merely serves to obscure the defects of any given social
structure by focusing on the psychological anxieties of individuals.
Freud’s influence on political theory, as a writer for The Times
Literary Supplement
observed rightly in a recent article, "
unacknowledged though it is, has been to reinforce conservatism and
discourage reform." (October 28, 1965.)

In a sense, the revolt against
orthodox Freudian theory was motivated by an awareness of its
potentially dire social consequences. The left-wing neo-Freudians
hold that Freud’s interpretation of the individual in terms of
primary instincts is mechanistic, that it is based on questionable
biological assumptions and that it ignores the individual’s social
and cultural background. They have tried to " shift the emphasis
from the past to the present, from the biological to the cultural
level, from the constitution of the individual to his environment."
(Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization?) But the neo-Freudian
psycho-analytic theory of society is also based on dubious premises.
Whereas Freud was primarily interested in helping a sick individual
adjust to a sick civilization, the neo-Freudians insist they can cure
sick societies by a dash of psycho-analysis, ethics and
pseudo-ideology. However, their criticism of society is usually
nothing more than spurious moralizing.

As Herbert Marcuse put it bluntly
in his Eros and Civilization: the philosophy of even the
left-wing neo-Freudians " is achieved by directing the criticism
against surface phenomena while accepting the basic premises of the
criticized society." To the revisionist, adds Marcuse, ” the
brute fact of societal repression has transformed itself into a ‘
moral problem ‘—as it has done in the conformist philosophy of
all ages. And as the clinical fact of neurosis becomes ‘ in the last
analysis, a symptom of moral failure,’ the ‘ psycho-analytic cure of
the soul ‘ becomes education in the attainment of a ‘ religious’

It is this proclivity to confuse
internalized ethics with ideology and reality which moves Dr. Levine
to transform each and every problem, be it political or social, into
a moral or ethical problem. Thus, he finds that the type of
adjustment followed by modern-educated Ethiopians " is
inadequate to the challenge of their present situation." From
this he concludes: " the search for leadership in Ethiopia today
is partly a search for new ego ideals. It is a search for persons and
images embodying a more productive and procreative type of
orientation, capable of inspiring a creative minority of Ethiopians
to build on, not abandon orality, and to move beyond." (p. 237.)
Dr. Levine is also convinced the intellectuals of Ethiopia "
will get nowhere unless their ranks produce fewer ‘ escapees ‘ and
more ‘ moral heroes.’ " (p. 217.)

Thus we are given the prescription
which will solve the immemorial problems of Ethiopia: "…
fewer’ escapees,’ more ‘ moral heroes,’ " and " new ego
ideals." The political, social and economic ills of the country
are thereby transformed into moral and psychological problems. If Dr.
Levine has found the mode of adjustment of the modern-educated
Ethiopians unsatisfactory and if this archaic mode of adjustment is
due, as he argues, to their orality-fixation, where will Ethiopia
find a creative leadership with new ego-ideals? Where indeed will
Ethiopia find " persons and images embodying a more productive
and procreative type of orientation, capable of inspiring a creative
minority of Ethiopians to build on, not abandon orality, and to move
beyond "? Apparently, it is in anticipation of such questions
that Dr. Levine feels constrained to assure his readers that "
it is not necessary for a very large number of Amhara to change their
orientations in this regard for creative leadership to be effective."
(p. 236.) And how will the " creative minority " change its
archaic orientation and embody " new ego ideals "? Will it
have to undergo a group psycho-therapy? Professor Levine does not
answer; he evades the question and perhaps it was his wisest
course to do so.

What Dr. Levine is, in effect,
recommending is that " the minority of Amhara and other
Ethiopians who are in a position to introduce constructive change "
should have " new ego ideals . . . embodying a more productive
and procreative type of orientation …" Once this is attained
Ethiopia will have solved all its problems. There is nothing
structurally wrong with Ethiopia, the social system need not be
corrected, land reform need not be instituted, the education system
need not be revamped, administrative reforms need not be introduced:
produce a creative minority with new ego ideals and the minority will
introduce constructive change by building on, but not abandoning
orality. And who will inject this creative minority with new ego
ideals and who will train or help the creative minority " to
build on, not abandon orality and to move beyond " ? The answer
is again left implicit. It was in response to this kind of shoddy
moralizing and quack psycho-analytic prescription that a critic was
moved to label such " scientists " as " physicians of
the soul, midwifes to the soul of man." (Harry K. Wells, The
Failure of Psycho-analysis.)
Isn’t Professor Levine assuming for
himself the role of midwife to a new Abyssinian soul?


Professor Levine is a former
student and devoted admirer of the late Robert Redfield. He has duly
tried to reflect the methodological approach perfected by his mentor:
”. … as the reader of Robert Redfield’s methodological handbook,
The Little Community, will readily appreciate. I have sought
to organize these materials in terms of half a dozen of the more
common viewpoints used in the study of human communities." (p.
viii.) if one can take the viewpoints and interests expressed in his
books as somewhat indicative of his own personal philosophy or
approach to life, it can probably be safely assumed that Robert
Redfield was a gentle and kind human being not only because life had
treated him well but also because he was too much of a
gentleman-idealist: he idyllized folk society and peasant culture and
was incapable of seeing other than the ‘ self-contained ‘ and ‘ happy
‘ side of the life of peasants.

Seventeen years after Redfield had
published his pioneering study, TepoztlanA Mexican
another American anthropologist, Oscar Lewis, visited
the same village to examine and analyse the changes which had
occurred in the intervening years. Oscar Lewis was flabbergasted by
what he actually found in the village as opposed to what Redfield’s
book had led him to expect. As he put in in his own study of
Tepoztlan, Life in a Mexican Village: "The impression
given by Redfield’s study of Tepoztlan is that of a relatively
homogeneous, isolated, smoothly functioning, and well-integrated
society made up of a contented and well-adjusted people. His picture
of the village has a Rousseauan quality which glosses lightly over
evidence of violence, disruption, cruelty, disease, suffering, and
maladjustment. We are told little of poverty, economic problems, or
political schisms. Throughout his study we find an emphasis upon the
co-operative and unifying factors in Tepoztecan society." On the
other hand, added Lewis, his own findings " would emphasize the
underlying individualism of Tepoztecan institutions and character,
the lack of cooperation, the tensions between villages in the
municipio, the schisms within the village, and the pervading quality
of fear, envy, and distrust in inter-persona! relations."

Redfield accepted the criticisms
with grace and took note of them in his famous methodological
handbook, The Little Community: "(The) summary
characterizations of the effects of the two books seem to me, on the
whole, just. The two accounts of the same community do give these
contrasting impressions: the one of harmony and a good life; the
other of a life burdened with suffering and torn with dissension and
corroding passion." Redfield admitted with a surprising candour
that the difference between his study and that of Lewis was to be
found in the difference between their respective interests:

" There are hidden questions
behind the two books that have been written about Tepoztlan. The
hidden question behind my book is, ‘ what do these people enjoy? ‘
The hidden question behind Dr. Lewis’s book is ‘ what do these people
suffer from? ‘ " He felt that such differences arising from the
personal factor could be corrected and suggested " the
possibility of combining two contrasting viewpoints into a combined
viewpoint of the protean and unattainable absolute reality. I think
we may well conceive of the process by which understanding of the
human wholes in advanced as a kind of dialectic of viewpoint, a
dialogue of characterizations. ‘ This,’ but on the other hand ‘
that,’ is the orderly swing of the mind toward truth."

Dr. Levine utilizes Redfield’s "
‘this ‘-but-on-the-other-hand-‘ that’" technique; an approach
which gives some balance and perspicacity to his book although it
tends to make him sound assiduously perplexing. Thus, he finds that
the " wax-and-gold mentality " is incompatible with the
demands of the contemporary world and yet, at the same time, he
argues that the " wax-and-gold mentality " should also be
regarded as a " beneficial agent." He states that the
modern-educated Ethiopians have not been able to provide creative
leadership and argues this is partly due to their orality-syndrome.
Yet, he suggests that what they should do is " not abandon
orality, but move beyond." One could go on citing his " ‘
this,’ but on the other hand, ‘ that’ " observations and
arguments. Leaving aside the question of this sophisticated
methodology which appears at times, at least to a layman like the
present writer, as a convenient technique for formalistic
judiciousness in the abstract, what insights do we gain from
Professor Levine’s study of " Amhara life as a combination of
opposite " ?

The chapter on "
Individualism and Social Progress " is the most thoughtful,
pertinent and incisive section in Dr. Levine’s book. He achieves
trenchancy by clarifying individualism " in terms of three
different usages of the concept: individualism as a psychological
disposition, as a mode of social organization, and as a cultural
value." (p. 241.) He examines first the degree of
individualistic disposition in terms of two measures: "the
extent to which individuals are attached to collective symbols and
interests, and the extent to which interpersonal relations take
non-solidaristic forms."

Professor Levine observes there is
solidarism in the realm of religious affiliation and
territorial-linguistic groups. But, he notes, " these
attachments are of relatively little import in shaping a
self-transcending orientation in the day to day activities …"
(p. 242.) He finds community sentiment non-existent except in times
of crisis such as in connection with the pursuit of outlaws, (pp.
242-243.) On the question of egoism, Dr. Levine clarifies the complex
problem by distinguishing between stylized social behaviour and
fundamental communication. He discerns correctly that Abyssinian
social behaviour is not egoistic on superficial levels of
interaction (e.g. hospitality) whereas egoism prevails " in the
more fundamental areas of work and serious communication." (p.
247.) Argumentation, litigation, insulting, and revenge "
comprise the hard core of social interaction," while deception
and suspicion are character traits of the individualistic
disposition, (p. 250.)

The blight of Ethiopia’s social
order has always been horizontal individualism and vertical
solidarity. Be it in the political, military or ecclesiastic order,
we find the phenomenon of lateral individualistic-egoism and vertical
solidarity. Dr. Levine gets to the heart of the matter by his acute
observation that given the weakness of horizontal forms of cohesion,
" the dispositions which sustain a minimum of social order . . .
are expressed through vertical hierarchical forms of interaction."
(p. 253.) And it is in this " vertical-hierarchical"
cohesion that we find both individualistic (authoritarian
relationships) and solidaristic (deference, begging) forms of
interaction, (ibid.)

Having analysed various forms of
interaction, Dr. Levine comes to the conclusion that the primary
psychological disposition of Abyssinians, with regard to
individualism, " (is) to structure interaction in terms of
self-assertion, dissension, and distrust, and to be indifferent to
the concept of civil community. At the same time this egoistic
orientation is blended with a warm and kindly sense of sociability,
an occasional mood of generosity, and a refined sensibility regarding
differences in status and the readiness to pay deference
accordingly." (p. 256.) With respect to individualism as a mode
of social organization and as a cultural value, Professor Levine is
of the opinion that the society " gives relatively wide rein to
individual impulse in action." (p. 266.) But, he adds, this
should not be taken to mean that individuality is recognized
and respected: "(the) culture places little value on the moral
worth of the individual as such, in that—with the limited
exception of poetry—it does not encourage the development and
expression of a distinctive and authentic self." (p. 271.)

Thus, since the tendency in human
relations " is a disposition to seek, not unity based on
affection, understanding, and/or responsibility, but disunity based
on the assertion of personal claims," the organization
of Abyssinian society relies on a " highly personal
relationship between superior and subordinate, with the subordinate
existing essentially as an extension of the ego of the superior."
(pp. 273-274.) This results in a " domination (which is)
virtually unlimited," a system wherein. " the main social
restraints are in the form of repressive obligations." Hence,
the social order is individualistic in so far as horizontal social
obligations are concerned but solidaristic in the form of vertical,
repressive obligations. Professor Levine’s thesis on Abyssinian
individualism and solidarity is not merely perceptive; it is a
brilliant analysis, sui generis. A cursory glance at the
history of Ethiopia will confirm that the leaven of Abyssinian social
order has always been vertical, repressive obligation. In times of
stress and crisis when vertical repression has been weakened or is
almost non-existent, the horizontal individualism of the people has
always results in anomiek not to say anarchy. Emperor Tewodros
who, despite his impetuous self and despite his actions, knew how to
read the soul of his people, was keenly aware of the peculiar
psychological orientation of his subjects. According to Rassam,
Tewodros told one visitor that " he found out before he had been
many years on the throne that the Abyssinians were not capable of
appreciating good government; they preferred the opposite and,
therefore, he had resolved to rule them henceforward according to
their liking. He had tried to introduce modern reforms and to root
out barbarous practices, but his people preferred misrule and
rebelled against him. ‘ I am now determined to follow them into every
corner and shall send their bodies to the grave and
their souls to hell,’ " We can also see how the
horizontal-individualism of the social order succumbed to anomie
and anarchy when Tewodros was in a very much weakened political
and military position prior to the Battle of Magdala. Tewodros again
showed his incredible insight into the psychology of his people in
the cri de coeur he uttered just before he shot himself: "
O, people of Abyssinia, will it always be thus that you flee before
the enemy when I myself, by the power of God, go not forth with you
to encourage you."

These words of Tewodros cannot be
dismissed as the bitter words of a betrayed and broken-down man.
Wittingly or not, he pinpointed the weakness of the social order: the
people are loyal and disciplined only in so far as their leader is
physically present amongst them and in so far as he continues to
possess the strongest military force and political power. The
solidarity and cohesive-ness of the vertical-repressive obligation is
not attained by the submergence of the ego of the
individualistic Abyssinian. Rather, the soldier or the peasant
identifies himself or his ego with that of the admired leader. But
once the leader is vanquished, either militarily or
politically, the allegiance of the ego is automatically transferred
to the victor or the new leader. As Professor Levine puts it
succinctly: in participating in the cult of the individual, the
Abyssinian is " not submerging his ego for the sake of broader
realities but reasserting his ego through identification with the
celebrated personality." (p. 274.) It is said that Bismarck
hailed the Roumanians not as a nationality but as a profession; one
can easily imagine what he would have said of Ethiopians. Although
Professor Levine suggests that Abyssinian individualism (with its
concomitant traits of suspicion and deception) is one of the
obstacles hampering solidary action among modern-educated Ethiopians,
he is far too sophisticated to blame individualism as the
culprit-trait fettering Ethiopia in its ponderous attempts to
modernize its archaic system. Excessive individualism and deficient
communal solidarity is, of course, by no means peculiar to Ethiopia.
The Spanish people, for example, are noted for their uncompromising
individualism. One Spanish intellectual has described individualism
as malignidad hispana (Spanish malignancy or maliciousness).

But what needs be stressed here is
that psychological orientations and their potential impact on the
historical evolution of social structures should be viewed with a
sense of proportion. This is all the more imperative as the fad of
psychologism, so prevalent in most of the universities of the Western
world, is wielded to " explain " (though one should really
say " explain away ") in terms of psychological concepts
the " failure " of a " democratic government " in
such and such a country or the economic backwardness of a certain
region. A classic example of such, kind of psychologism is a recently
published hook—Dictatorship in Spanish America, ed. H.
M. Hamill, Jr.—which tries to explain that the prevalence of
dictatorships in South America is due to Spanish individualism. Don
Kurzman, a veteran journalist familiar with the problems of
undeveloped countries, reviewing the book in The Washington Post
(Sept. 1, 1966) was moved to observe: "the explanation lies
perhaps less in ethnic character than in social and economic
stagnancy, a factor barely mentioned by the learned contributors to
this book." In a way, psychologism is a sad commentary on the intellectual
integrity of Western bourgeois scholars; they scoff at Marxism as
simple-minded and mechanistic and yet they do not find it
simple-minded at all when they themselves apply simplistic
psychologism to explain historical phenomena.


It is clear from the foregoing
that Professor Levine has written a profound and challenging book on
the problem of tradition and innovation in Ethiopia. It is profound
in the sense that he has raised a number of interesting questions and
tried to assess their potential impact on the presumed modernization
pangs of Ethiopia. Its challenge also lies therein: are the issues
broached by Dr. Levine substantive problems that demand the immediate
attention of those who are supposed to guide the destiny of the
nation? Or, are they superficial questions based on surface
observations and, therefore, suggesting merely symptomatic treatment?

Given the paucity, to say the
least, of facts and data on Ethiopia, it is understandable that so
little is known with, certainty and, consequently, conjecture is at
once attractive and even unavoidable. It is thus not very
disappointing that Dr. Levine fails to emerge as a dependable guide
in tracing out the somewhat amorphous social structure. Nonetheless,
one wonders how one can even begin to study the problem of tradition
and innovation in Ethiopia without a trenchant analysis of the social
structure and a meaningful inquiry into the historically significant
social institutions. Dr. Levine is, of course, quite right in raising
questions concerning the psychological motivations and orientations
of the people for these too are important questions. But, will the
consciousness of the people and their psychological orientations be
understandable if one does not examine them within the framework of "
the principle of historical specificity "? One can accept the
psychological interpretations and psycho-analytic concepts submitted
by the author as pertinent and meaningful provided one accepts his
implicit assumption: namely, it is not life that determines
consciousness but consciousness that determines life— a
negation of the well-known Marxist notion.

The belief that awareness of
psychological orientations can correct the congenital social ills of
a basically defective society also leads Dr. Levine to a number of
unconvincing conclusions. While it cannot be denied that he has done
some valuable research, he has fallen victim to unexamined, or
inadequately examined, assumptions and ‘ ideal-type ‘
classifications. The illusions which this cavalier approach engenders
naturally lead him to propensities to write off large issues with
absurdly brief but only half-true assertions. Thus we are told that "
the search for leadership in Ethiopia today is partly a search for
new ego ideals." (p. 237.) But do such facile observations leave
us any wiser? Professor Levine’s obviously great learning in the
dark, shallow recesses of the psyche is possibly relevant to the
psychoses of modern man in Western society. But is it really
relevant, at this time and period, to the socio-economic problems of

The instinctive antipathy and
bitterness of spirit which Dr. Levine manifests towards "
hysterical " and " immature " radicals—although
it is doubtful whether serious " radicals" worth
mentioning exist at all in Ethiopia—is perhaps attributable to
the manner m which he reaches conclusions. The opinions and.
suggestions which he feels constrained to express are based not on
the social realities of Ethiopia but on his own ethnocentric bias and
class prejudice. Within the American political spectrum, Dr. Levine
sees himself, apparently, as a member of the " pragmatist"
and " liberal " camp, and he has simply assumed that his
brand of political philosophy should also be good enough for

Liberalism, in essense, is
bourgeois common sense based on the smug opinion that contemporary
society is basically sound and that whatever minor shortcomings may
there exist can be corrected through good-natured co-operation
between sensible voters and responsive leadership. Unfortunately, the
intolerant insistence that this bourgeois common sense is the only
sensible solution to the myriad problems of the undeveloped countries
is not merely an absurd tautology; it is a gratuitous insult to the
intelligence of the peoples of the non-Western world. It is indeed
most extraordinary that Dr. Levine, who has a keen mind endowed by
nature and cultivated by study, should be in many ways so incapable
of discerning the intrinsic relationship between the nature of the
social structure and the pace and quality of modernization. Injecting
new ego ideals, so to speak, into the moribund systems of the
undeveloped countries cannot bring about modernization; it will, at
best, prolong their agonies of death. Like it or not, we have to face
the bitter truth of out era, and that being: in the undeveloped
countries of the world, the scrape of Nero’s fiddle is by no means

Chaadaev, one of the leading
intellectuals of nineteenth-century Russia, wrote of what he thought
was the destiny of his country: " We belong to the number of
nations who do not enter into the framework of mankind and exist only
in order to give the world some serious lesson," The irony of
these bitter words is that Chaadaev would not have turned out to be
such a false prophet had he but let his eyes wander to some of the
older nations in the Southern Hemisphere.

In so far as the problem of
modernization is concerned, Dr. Levine’s Wax & Gold is a
little bit more than disappointing; it is an obscurantist piece of
work. Indeed those who are acquainted with Fanon’s The Wretched of
the Earth,
or Dumont’s False Start in Africa, or Baran’s
The Political Economy of Growth, will find Dr. Levine’s claim
that he has studied the modernization problems of Ethiopia as
downright blasphemous. His rhetoric on the imperative need for
moderation, on the blessings of traditionalism and his dour warnings
about the disruptiveness of uncompromising social change clearly show
that Dr. Levine is not really a neutral scholar of tradition and
innovation; he is a medium; he reflects not only the prejudices and
smugness of bourgeois social science but also those of bourgeois
society. He is blessed, however, with a talent to express the most
priggish, sentiments—and, at times, even sheer humbug— in
genteel, good-humoured and self-effacing double talk and thus manages
to have the most stilted reactionary dogmatism sound as a perfectly
sensible, progressive idea. Professor Levine informs us that he has
permitted himself " to linger awhile with certain questions "
(such as the nature of ambiguity or the concept of individualism)
that are " beyond aesthetic interest and practical
concern "—questions representing the " intrusion of a
purely intellectual impulse." (p. ix.) Indeed, he adds, "
the chief message " he " would wish to convey to those now
shaping the fate of developing nations " is the need for "
this type of (intellectual) digression " and " the
cultivation of those faculties of ‘ sociological imagination ‘ and ‘
sociological sensibility.’ " {ibid.) Since the "
message " is directed to " those now shaping the fate of
the developing nations," it would have been, ordinarily, more
than presumptuous for one who happens to be a bemused spectator of
his own fate being shaped by others to comment on either the
aesthetic, practical, or intellectual implications of the message.
But given that what is at stake is one’s own fate, one might be
excused if one were to say that Dr. Levine’s Wax & Gold is
" beyond practical concern " and truly conceived out of a "
purely aesthetic and intellectual impulse."

Dr. Levine also believes that he
has raised " questions and . . . issues in public which
heretofore have been politely overlooked or furtively concealed:"
And, he adds, " to readers who may be offended by parts of this
book which may seem critical, 1 can only say that to be modern
means—for all of us—to be joined to a worldwide dialogue
about the limitations and potentialities of human experience."
(pp. ix-x.) Although, it is not possible to agree with. Dr. Levine
that he has raised problems which have been " politely
overlooked or furtively concealed," one still hopes that the
present review of his book has been written with that spirit of
dialogue in mind. And if, at times, a tone of bitterness tends to
creep into some of the remarks, one can only say that to be modern
also implies the capacity to feel passionately, the capacity to be
committed to the cause of human progress even, if need be, and most
times it is, at the expense of obscurantist traditionalism. As has
been observed by progressive social
thinkers, traditionalism sanctions the present by deriving it from
the past while empiricism, the " scientific " hand-maiden
of traditionalism, shackles the future by riveting it to the present.

Be that as it may, there can be no
question that Professor Levine is a scholar with genuine affection
for Ethiopians and their country. As he himself put it in an
evocative passage, "… in a setting of great natural beauty and
a climate often called ‘idyllic,’ it (Ethiopia offers a gate through
time to a state of being that is really medieval. Such sights and
sounds: A minstrel singing his subtle lyrics as he bows a
one-stringed fiddle; in the dark interiors of church, barefoot
deacons holding beeswax candles and swinging vessels of smoking
incense; the pomp of a nobleman moving cross-country with his crowded
entourage; a young girl washing the feet of her father’s guest …"
(pp. vii-viii.) Clearly, he is a gentleman of refined aesthetic
sensibilities with unquestionable nostalgic love and goodwill for
traditional Ethiopia. As such, even those Ethiopians who do not share
his philosophy will be disposed to reciprocate his good will. But
while they do so, and as Dr. Levine indulges his poetic muse on the
enchanting medieval scenes of Ethiopia, they will continue to strive
for a new dawn:

" Brothers, this dawn is
yours, this dawn at earth’s
level is your last dawn, And you
are bedded on it,
Brothers, this dawn is ours over
this gulf of sorrow! "
(from Paul Eluard’s Bury and be

* Donald N. Levine: Wax
& Gold.
The University of Chicago Press. U.S.

1 Matsumura
Yutaka—Japan’s economic growth, Tokyo News Service, 1961, p.


Snatch and Run or Marriage by Abduction [Telfo bekisE] (Part 1)



Snatch and Run, or Marriage by Abduction," was performed in Addis Ababa
at the Haile Sellassie I National Theatre during the Ethiopian
Christmas week, January, 1963.

It was directed by Ato Tesfae Gessesse, one of the promising young Ethiopian men of the theatre. The cast was as follows :—

Wondayehu ………………………….Merrine Jembere Belay
   Gelagle ……………………………….Getachew Debalke
   Bezabih Tori …………………………Haile Worku
   Aregga ………………………………..Negash Zeleke
   Yesahak ………………………………(a) Makonnen Amena (b) Tesfae Gessesse
   Taffesech ……………………………..(a) Mulumebet Haile Mariam (b) Asnefech Worku
   Negadras ………………………………Workineh Birru Fikre Ayele
   Hapte ………………………………….Lemma Worke
   Fitawrari Merrine Tekwas …………..Makonnen Abebe
   Wolde-Cherkos ……………………..Sahlou Ezineh


 Wondayehu Merrine, Gelagle, Bezabih Tori, Aregga, Yesahak:

Childhood and school-day friends, all eligible bachelors of the modern generation.

Taffesech: A girl, 19 years of age.

Negadras Workineh Birru: A rich merchant and the father of Taffesech.

Habte : Servant to the Negadras.

FlTAWRARI MERRINE Tekwas: A patriot and the father of Wondayehu.

Wolde-Cherkos: Filawrari's servant.



Act I—

Scene 1—Saturday Afternoon, the living room.

Scene 2—After Lunch, the same room.

Act II— After Supper, the bedroom.

Act III— Sunday Morning, the living room.

Time : Present-day Ethiopia.

Place : About 30 Km. from Addis Ababa.

ACT I—Scene 1

When the curtain rises we see the living room of Fitawrari Merrine Tekwas' villa about thirty kilometres
from the city of Addis Ababa. Part of the country home is used by his
son, Wondayehu, as a week-end vacation retreat, especially in the
disagreeable Addis rainy season. His friends often use the house as a
retreat and feel per­fectly at home. The living room which we now see
appears comfortable and inviting. The presence of a record player and
telephone indicate not only the comfortable wealth of the owner but is
also a witness to the extent modern civilization is invading the
peaceful Ethiopian countryside.

the left we see a huge mirror set in a heavy gilt frame. On the
opposite stage is an impressive portrait of a man whose hair is done in
the traditional
" Gofere" style which can only be managed by the traditional wooden comb. A " mandolier " or
cartridge belt passes round his waist twice, then crosses his broad
chest and passes over his shoulder. He wears sandals and puttees. From
his left ear huge male golden earrings are suspended. In his left hand
he holds a light machine gun, while his right hand rests on the butt of
a pistol. He stands proud, legs apart, with knitted brows and eyes
staring boldly. Obviously this man was a great Arbagna (leader of the
the Italian occupation and a crack shot with the pistol. A coat hanger
stands near the door on the left with a hat on it. Through this door
the bedroom and dining room may be reached by a corridor, as well as
the kitchen and bathroom.

most imposing architectural feature of the living room is a large bay
window which fills the back wall, through which the audience sees the
top of eucalyptus trees. The sky is cloudy and overcast but the room is
gay and brightly decorated with paper buntings. The electric bulbs are
gaily decorated with hats and skirts of bunting, indicating a festive
event. A large assortment of bottles is visible on the bar.

It is a Saturday during the late rainy season. It is almost 1 pm.
A few rays of sun break through the window and stretch across the floor
of the living room. Into this setting, Wondayehu Merrine enters from
stage left whistling the latest hit song. He almost dances rather than
walks and slams the bedroom door with a bang. Wondayehu is short,
lightly built and looks decep­tively young for his age. Coat less and tie less
with his shirt sleeves rolled up, he appears ready to tackle a job. He
wears fashionable shoes and bright socks. Wearing a super-modern
haircut with the front part zooming forward like the horn of a rhino,
he looks like a wild bull ready to charge. Nevertheless, Wondayehu
Merrine appears preoccupied. He bites his nails, studies the room but
is lost in thought.

Wondayehu : Well, what more to do ? (Turns toward the bedroom?) The sheets have been changed. (Nervously searching for a bunch of keys in his pocket, he extricates them) Yes
! This might be for the dining room. The rats alone are punishment
enough for the prisoner ! An ideal prison ! I told that Wolde-Cherkos
to get poison and fill up the rat holes. Who can make him listen to
anything ? This is for the bedroom. Good ! Now—have I forgotten
anything ? Drinks ? (He kneels down, examines the bar and hurriedly counts the bottles) And cigarettes ? We have plenty.

(Standing up with flowery declamatory gestures, he addresses a mythical audience.) The
bridal chamber is prepared. The prison is ready. What more do you want,
my brothers ? Everything is spick and span ! So God speed you, good
luck, and may you return gloriously victorious !

whistles and hums and starts the record player which plays a popular
song. Dancing to the bedroom door, he suddenly remembers it is locked,
backs up, pulls the key from his pocket. When he finally opens the
door, a corner of the bed can be seen. He re-enters the living room
straightening his tie. He looks at himself in the mirror, and seeing
the reflection of his father's picture from the opposite side, he
musingly begins to speak to it.)

Well, Dad ! What do you think ? We are proving we are men today ! You're going to have the surprise of your life ! (Worriedly he looks at his watch.) They should be here by now. (The front door bell rings.) Right on cue !

(He dances gleefully and quickly draws the curtains on the front window.) Welcome conquerors ! Lion-hearted ones, come in, come in ! Welcome home ! Come, all is ready ! (He
unlocks the door and opens it wide. When he sees the stranger standing
at the door his face immediately registers disappointment.)

Oh ! It's you !

unexpected guest is Gelagle. He is of average height, casual and
completely at ease. His face carries the dignified expression of the
Greek philosopher, Socrates. Although rather homely he has an engaging
personality. We know immediately he is on the plump side because his
shirt front does not button. In addition, we know he is a "philosopher
" because
his tie is askew, his shirt wrinkled and his over-long trousers
ill-fitted. All in all, it would appear that his clothes have never
been ironed. He is badly in need of a shave, hat mishapened, pockets
bulging with books, wearing glasses, and holding a raincoat and bag in

: Hi, Wondayehu ! How are you ? What's the matter ? You look annoyed.
Anything wrong ? I hope I'm not gate-crashing into a private party. (When he takes off his hat, we suspect he is an intellectual for he is quite bald.)

Wondayehu : I thought you had gone to Dessie. (He closes the door and receives Gelagle's belongings.)

: Changed my mind. Infact, I didn't expect to be coming here but I
couldn't stand those damned rains in Addis. They got on my nerves.
Nowadays, the rain lurks behind the clouds ready to pounce like an
enemy. It waits until you're ready to leave the office then maliciously

Wondayehu : Well, wear your raincoat and you needn't suffer. (Turning his hat in his hand.) You still have this same old hat ? (He peers out through the curtains and then looks at his watch.)

Gelagle : Stop moralizing. (Places luggage on the table) You're all the same. " Why did you go bald ? " " Why don't you have your shirts washed ? " et etcetera. Amen, I say,. Amen ! (He stretches out comfortably on the sofa, closing his eyes) Thank
God for the never questioning countryside! When one gets bored with the
noise and din of shallow city life, there is always this cathedral of
therapeutic recuperation.

Stop complaining. We advise you for your own good. You're overplaying
the role of the philosopher. You're still young. Get out like the
others, wash yourself, dress decently—you would literally rock the
heart of any damned girl or woman in town. You're always complaining
you can't find the right one, the one and only. Well go on, go on
meditating and hesitating and you will die hesitating. What do you
expect at your age. You can't grow horns!

Well, leave mine alone. So, what about you or that great Bezabih? Have
you two been so successful ? Have either of you found the girl of your
dreams? You and that Bezabih who dreams of saving humanity and can't
sleep because of it—you're just jealous of what I've got.

I can assure you it was an accident. You did nothing on your part to
deserve it. How is she? Your Belaynesh ? I understand you're at it

Same old thing. One reason why I'm here. She can't live with me and she
can't live without me. She tells me she does not love me, that she
hates me, and when she does not find me by her side the flood of her
tears is ten times more than the downpour of the month of July.

Wondayehu: Have a drink. You need to cool off. (He pours a glass from the bottle) Yesahak says as long as you don't hate whiskey it doesn't matter if others hate you.

Gelagle: Not now. After dinner. I hope you'll have some chicken watt for dinner.

Wondayehu: (Looking at his watch.) Well,
if she loves you that much why doesn't she marry you and have done with
it. Don't tell me you don't know her well enough after running after
her for four years.

Gelagle : You mean to say why don't / marry her ?

Wondayehu: You're still not civilized. Marry! What difference does it make whether you marry her or she marries you. It's all the same. That is what we say.

Gelagle: We? And pray say, who are we?

Wondayehu: We? That is—us. Myself, Bezabih, Yesahak and Aregga.

Gelagle: As long as you don't include me in that list you can be as mad as you like.

Wondayehu : When the day comes, when the day of action arrives, who will want a philosopher like you, Gelagle? If you were a man you
would have abducted Belaynesh a long time ago and married her. A
marriage by abduction! A romantic marriage fitting for a philosopher

Thank you for your kind advice! As one would say in the new Anglicized
Amharic: " Your advice is supported by a walking stick of brotherly
sentiment." But, when I marry, / will marry her, and she will not marry me. And when I marry it will be in strict accordance with the practices and traditions of our fathers.

Wondayehu: We all know you are a radical tradi­tionalist! A reactionary obstacle to modern civilization. (Laughs.) But
what fun it might be! You the warrior abductor, Belaynesh the screaming
abductee! Me, Bezabih Tori, Aregga, Yesahak—the best men! A real

(Opening his eyes and sitting up.) You mean to tell me that I should
inform her in advance saying: " On such and such a date, at such and
such a time, I am going to abduct you at such and such a place!" Don't
make me laugh, my friend! (He stands.)

You don't understand my meaning. If you abduct her by prior
consultation and agreement, it would spoil everything. It would no
longer be in the tradition of our fathers, no longer in the hallowed
custom of our country.

Gelagle : The ancient customs of our country must be respected, you know.

Quite true! The ancient customs must be respected. Then why not
abduction? It has been used by our fathers, grandfathers, great
grand­fathers and forefathers. They never complained—it served them
well. There is only one difference between our times and theirs. In
those days men were men and women were women! The country was not
suffering from an over-abundance of philosophers like yourself, my

Gelagle: (Noticing the picture on the wall.) But
all joking aside, how is the old man? How is your father? How I enjoy
sitting at his feet listening to the stories of the good old days.
Those days of great deeds, romance and real manhood! Do you think we
are made of the same stuff as they were? I doubt it. How I envy them!
How lucky they were! The kind of cleverness of today which is called
education didn't tie them hand and foot. They were free agents! Is
Fitawrari home?

Wondayehu: (Looking through the window.) Father has gone hunting. He may return Tuesday or Wednes­day, not before.

Gelagle : (Noticing for the first time the gay decora­tions.) By gosh! What's all this? This Gala Field Day.

Wondayehu: It is a reception. We are abducting a beautiful young lady from town.

Still the clown. People ask you serious questions and you go on joking.
As long as that roman­tic Bezabih Tori is still around, I can't expect
you to talk sensibly—even for a joke. I remember when I was here about
a month ago, the joke of the day was something quite different. What
was it . . . ?

The programme for today is based on the proposition that we should not
detach ourselves from the roots of our tradition. Our slogan for today
is: " let us stick to our customs, to the ancient customs "— and our
Holy Book of Tradition orders—abduction! Abduction without prior
knowledge on either side. And we have agreed to carry out the spirit of
the ritual literally.

Well, at least you are trying to be con­sistent. There is nothing like
modern consistency with the traditions of the past.

Wondayehu: Stop being funny. I hope you didn't expect to spend the night here.

Well, I certainly didn't come thirty kilometres to listen to your
gibberish about abduction. No, you're quite mistaken. I am here and I
intend to pass the night in this very house.

That's what I was afraid of. " My very fear has come upon me," as the
old proverb goes. Well, you are our honourable guest. Our one and only

Gelagle: What is brewing in this house?

Wondayehu: We are celebrating the Feast of St. Michael. We are going to drink the Tebel (beer).

(The noise of a car
suddenly stopping is heard.) 
Shhhh.. . Shhh . . . Listen! Be silent! (Runs to the window and looks out.) Yes, they are here! They are here! They have come! Well, Ato Gelagle, we must get ready to receive the bride immediately!

 Gelagle : I think you are crazy today. You are not your normal self. (From
outside a whistle given as a signal is heard. Wondayehu opens the main
door and Bezabih Tori enters. He is on the tallish side, head erect and
with a natural inborn pride. He has piercing eyes, high forehead and
the air of a quiet, determined and highly serious young man. In his
dressing habit, he appears only to care for cleanliness and nothing
else. Even then, what­ever he wears looks well on him. He is now
wearing a dark long-sleeved pull-over, but no coat or tie. Bezabih is
not only a man of thought and contemplation, but he puts a strong claim
on being a man of action as well. As a consequence, numberless varied
theories spring from his fertile mind,, some of them outlandish enough.
Many he keeps to himself and many he shares with his friends. His
friends, having taken due notice of his qualities, have nicknamed him
"Bezabih Tori," although Tori is not his father's name. He is so-named
not so much out of derision but of respect and admiration for most of
his friends are his camp followers. The word Tori seems appropriate for
him. It is derived from the English word
" theory" and his name being Bezabih means " too
many theories." According to Bezabih we must combine western
civilization with our own tradition and culture, but we must choose the
good in both of them and combine these two and create a new compound
that will be superior to either. Bezabih thinks that this can and
should be done. As a result of all this thinking and theorizing,
Bezabih has developed premature gray hair.)

Bezabih : Is everything ready ?

Wondayehu: (Saluting in a military fashion.) Yes sir, everything is in order.

Bezabih: Good. (He exits.)

Wondayehu: (Moves around the room distractedly putting on the last touches of the arrangements.)

Gelagle: What's going on? How is it Bezabih sees me here, goes out again as if he has not seen me ?

Wondayehu: Patience my friend and in five minutes you will know everything. (Bezabih returns and stands in the doorway. He calls Aregga off-stage.)

Bezabih : Aregga, bring in the prisoner. Wondayehu, go and help them. (Wondayehu exits without a word.)

the prisoner, enters with head bowed and hands tied at the back by her
own silk handkerchief. Her handbag hangs around her neck, breasts
heaving and eyes bulging in anger. She is pushed into the house by
Aregga followed closely by Wondayehu. Taffesech is a little more than
nineteen years of age, dressed in the most modern style. She is
beautiful in an unobtrusive way with hair done up in a long pony tail.
She wears heavy lipstick, huge earrings, a heavy gold bracelet on her
arm, and nylon stockings. She has no shoes on. But looking at her on
the whole, the man who gets her either by purchase, force or through
legal marriage cannot complain of anything lacking in her. Her guard,
Aregga, is a tall man of few words and serious disposition. He is
dressed soberly by contrast.)

Bezabih: (Angrily) Who removed the gags and bandages from her eyes ?

Aregga : (Calmly.) She promised not to cry or shout.

Bezabih: Take her and lock her up immediately. If she escapes, I am not responsible. I have spoken.

his arms and stands like a statue. Aregga unties her hands with the
help of his teeth; the prisoner exercises her numbed fingers. She
brushes her hair away from her forehead; looks up and glares at Bezabih
with the deadly stare of a poisoned arrow. While doing this
she detaches her handbag from her neck:, clutches it and, without
taking her eyes off Bezabih approaches him slowly, as if she is going
to slap him soundly across the face. Bezabih calmly waits for her,
steeling himself for the worst. She stands in front of him and
deliberately spits in his face. She turns her hack on him and walks
away. Bezabih does not flinch, but he struggles to control the surging
anger visibly rising in him. Suddenly he breaks out in a hoarse cry.

Lock her up.


and Wondayehu take her to her prison which is the dining room. Bezabih
slowly takes out a handker­chief and wipes his face.)

Gelagle, what are you doing here? (Again he is angry.) Well,
Wondayehu! What was the agreement? Didn't we agree that nobody other
than the four of us would be involved in this? No visitors, no matter
who, would be allowed? (There is a pause.) Answer me! Aregga, I call you to witness!

Aregga : Well, Gelagle! Why the surprise, you black­bird of Maskall It's been weeks since we've seen you and now all of a sudden you're here!

We've just begun, Bezabih, and already you are angry. Gelagle is
Gelagle. He is not a visitor, not a stranger. He is one of us!

Bezabih: (Cooling down a bit.) But the idea of it!

An agreement is an agreement! Nobody was to enter the house!

Gelagle: Now that you've mentioned it, I don't like the look of things myself. I don't feel very comfor­table here.

Aregga: Come on, Gelagle. You know how Bezabih is. He never really gets angry at anything specific—its always the idea, or the notion, or the meaning, or the significance of something. I know you would like to go but where ?

Wondayehu: And how? The bus doesn't come till tomorrow afternoon.

Gelagle: Forget me for the moment. What about her? Who is she? She looks like the daughter of Dejatchmatch Awraris, the Rhinoceros!

Wondayehu: Always picking bones, you old hyena!

Aregga: As a matter of fact she's second choice. We thought of someone else but couldn't find her. So this will have to do.

Gelagle : You're not serious ? It's a joke pigeon.

Bezabih : Who cares who she is, what she is ? She is a woman, that is enough.

Aregga: She was coming out of her office, going home for lunch, when we found her.

She must be a commercial school graduate. The daughter of some big
shot. Did you notice the gold bracelet she is wearing?

Aregga: She looks like one of those super-modern gals—educated abroad.

Wondayehu : (Pours out drinks and serving the round. Bezabih refrains.) Well, how about a drink to wash down the nasty business. But what happened to Yesahak? (He goes to the front window and looks out.) Hey, the car is not there!

Aregga: Don't worry, he'll be back soon enough. He knows the way. I'm tired. (He sits down.) Well, Gelagle, it seems you are our only wedding guest. Cheers!

Wondayehu : But remember, no squealing!

Gelagle : You fellows are mad. Insane! I can understand Wondayehu and Yesahak—but you Aregga, I thought you had a little sense.

Don't try to understand something beyond you, Gelagle. But what
happened Aregga? I am dying to know the details of the operation. How
did it go? (He rubs his hands impatiently.)

Aregga: Wait for Yesahak, he'll give you all the tidbits and spicy details.

I tell you gentlemen I do not look with favour on either the idea or
the practice of this madness. It is inconsistent with the nature of
things. (He paces the room.)

Bezabih: (Flaring up.) And we say it is right! The very idea of it is right! What can you do about it?

: Come on, boys, no argument. We have talked this thing over, and,
Bezabih, you have convinced us, all of us, as one man and in one voice
we have accepted it. We are one—so stop this bickering. You and Gelagle
are always arguing over something. But today is not the time for
arguments. Today is a day for laughter, for happiness. Today is a

Aregga : I support your thesis, Wondayehu.

Gelagle: (Resuming again!) So you did it. In broad daylight, on the main street, in the very centre o the city! (Sits down.)

Wondayehu: I'll tell you how it happened … It was easy. We planned it last Sunday, didn't we Aregga.

Aregga: " For those who are sitting on the ground the sky is very near," they say. Go on, we are listening,

You want to mystify everything, Aregga. What else is there to it ? you
said : " Miss, can we be of help? Can "we drop you somewhere? " As Miss
enters the car, you drive away as if you are making for her
house and then turn sharp, and dash to this place. That's that. What is
there to be mysterious about ? There is no mystery at all.

Aregga: To tell the truth, our best ally was the rain. If it had not been raining, she would not have accepted our offer.

Wondayehu: This abduction must have been blessed by the gods!

Aregga : Have you noticed the way she smiles, Bezabih? She's not bad, is she? Not bad at all!

Bezabih : That is not the main thing. That is something irrelevant, unnecessary.

Thank God for the rain. You know, some girls would welcome the chance
to pull up their skirts and show off their legs. They all take
advantage of it.

Aregga: You are speaking of those who wear the traditional Ethiopian dress.

: No, I mean all of them. Whether they wear short European skirts or
the traditional dress, they all want to attract. I know them all. I
know all their secrets, even those reserved for the father confessor!

Say whatever you like, but one thing is certain. That girl has guts!
Bezabih, I must say that you, too, acted in an extraordinarily
civilized way. I hope the good manners continue.

Bezabih: She's a brat! Cheap and ill-mannered! (Makes for the bedroom.) But what difference does it make? Our purpose is something quite different. I'd better wash the spit off my face. (Exits.)

Wondayehu: (Sitting beside Aregga.) Well then, Aregga …

It was easier than I would have dreamt. As soon as she came into the
car, I introduced her to Yesahak and Bezabih. She struck me as the
sweet quiet type, very proper. The trouble came later. As soon as we
passed Shola Michael, began to suspect something. Apparently her house
was in Gulele. (Wondayehu laughs hysterically.)

Gelagle: Well go on—laugh. I don't think it very funny! (The telephone rings.)

Wondayehu: This telephone is possessed of the devil today. This is the seventh time it has rung. (Takes off the receiver and places it off the hook. At this point, a loud knocking is heard from the front door.)

Voice: (A loud, coarse voice is heard violently calling.) Open up! This is the police!

(The three are riveted with fright. Again, another loud knock as if pounded with the butt of a rifle.)

Didn't I tell you? Didn't I tell you this is no laughing matter? Now I hope you get what's coming to you! I hope you enjoy it!

Wondayehu: (Voice faltering.) Shhhh . . . Shhhh . . . Silence! (Aregga takes a quick drink to calm his nerves.

As the door is pounded for the third time, the hinges almost fly off.)

Voice: Open up or we're going to break into the house, you dirty bunch of crooks!

silence descends upon the room. Wonda­yehu's knees are shaking, but
Gelagle, whose prophecy has been proven true, surveys the two sinners
with righteous superiority. Obviously Wondayehu is in agony.)

How could it be the police? I told Wolde-Cherkos to keep a sharp eye
out for the police. Can I help it if Wolde-Cherkose is no zabanya (guard).

goes to the window and after looking to his left and right opens the
door calmly. Yesahak enters with a care-free smile on Ins face, with
zebra striped scratches all over his face. He looks as though he had
been attacked by a blunt-nailed cat. He carries a pair of high-heel
woman's shoes and wears a plastic rain coat. His hair has obviously
been messed up in a fight. An ascot replaces the conventional tie and a
vest embellished by the seven colours of /he rainbow proclaims his
artistic nature. Yesahak is an eager chap and moves c/quickly.)

Yesahak: So this is how you brave fellows face a critical situation, eh? So these are the men we are

counting on! (He laughs.) This is how your courage would show if it were the real police? Eh? (He paces the room and scrutinizes each one.) You—you're
as white as a cadaver! You each deserve a medal for bravery! Not even a
little mouse dies without putting up some struggle! (Gelagle cruelly disappointed sits glumly.)

Wondayehu: (Incensed at the cheap theatrical joke.) Enough! Enough, I say! Enough is enough! (He gets up and exits in anger. Aregga is silent. Me, too, exits without a word. Absolute silence.)

What you have done is cruel. They are worried enough by their stupid
act, and on top of that you play this farcical comedy! I thought it was
really the police and was happy because that would have put an end to
this childish game.

Yesahak: (Acting the man terribly wronged.) All
right! Stop pestering me, all of you! So this is the thanks I get for
all the good work I've done! It was only to help them out that I did
it! (Throws the pair of shoes in anger.) Listen Gelagle, what
did the poet say about such situations? " Can iron become strong if it
is not hammered ? " Isn't that what he said ?

Gelagle: Yes, but the word is "hammered" not shivered!

You're a philosopher, you don't under­stand! In everything in life,
practice makes perfect. The best antidote for fear is practice in being
frightened. Don't you know that? Napoleon used to drink a beaker of
poison early every morning upon getting from his bed—like an aperitif,
you know? This was his precautionary defence against being poisoned by
his enemies.

Gelagle : Yes, I am listening.

Yesahak: And besides—what on earth are you doing here? This is no place for a saintly philosopher! (He takes Gelagle's drink and empties it.) I
feel so thirsty! Oh! oh! Have you ever seen a tigress with a new-born
cub? Yes, that was what she was like, an absolute beast of prey! Not to
mention her mule-like kicks which I still feel on my chest. My
intestines have been battered into spaghetti. But what can you expect
from a girl wearing heels a cubit and a half high? She almost dislodged
my appendix! After three or four of those kicks, on the fifth round I
struggled for dear life and removed her deadly weapon—her shoes! (Looking in the mirror.) And
my face! Nothing is left of my face, absolutely nothing! Everything is
gone! And my hair, look at it! It has been taken out from its very

(Sits by Gelagle's side.) Well, how shall I put it to
you my dear friend ? That I am walking on this earth alive is in itself
a great miracle. Her grip . . . it is like iron! You can't imagine the
strength of her arms. When I think of it now—I know how wrong I was!
The whole grand mistake was committed by the Ministry of Education and
Fine Arts! That they should allow such a study as physical culture and
things like that for our young sweet girls is the blunder of the
century. It was Madame Asqualetch, a great lady who said, " 'Gymnastics
is unfit for a proper lady," and she refused to send her daughter to
school for this very reason. What a fool I was to criticize her
position. It is only today that I realize the wisdom of that great
lady. She was a giant of a woman, ahead of her times! I must go to her
one of these days and ask her forgiveness for ever contradicting her.
My dear fellow, if a girl is soft and willowy, what does it matter if
she becomes a bit fat and comfortable ?

Gelagle: And then what happened? (He gets up, picks up the shoes from the floor and places them respect­fully on the tabled)

: It is no matter. For the sake of progress and civilization, let alone
being scratched and kicked, I suppose one can and should go through
harsher torments and tortures than this. The great Christian martyrs
didn't earn their crown of glory by doing noth­ing, you know, old boy!
They had to suffer! (Goes and lies full length on the sofa. Gelagle pours another glass of beer and gives it to Yesahak?)

Gelagle: Drink this … I know you deserve it. I can't help but feel sorry for you. (Yesahak takes the glass lying down and takes a long gulp.) But why were you so late in coming ?

You know, we came together at first. Having deposited the " cargo "
here, I had to go back and see how things were in town—you know, a
little intelligence work. (Empties glass.) We should thank

God for this. Nobody followed us, nobody even showed the least amount of suspicion. Everything according to plan. (Gets up and starts pacing.) Do
you know Gelagle, had I not been over-ruled by majority vote, she would
not have been the one for this abduction. Not this wild cat! There was
another chick, one we had seen earlier. She was the one we had first
thought of.

Gelagle: (Ironically.) Well,
it was not the will of God that she should profit from this great experience. Obviously, the stars were not right for the poor girl, the
unlucky one.

Poor thing! What an experience she has missed! You have no idea what
she looked like! Shall I show you the way she walked? Have you ever
seen a real double-breasted chick? A real doll! Lend me you

gives' him his handkerchief. He takes Gelagle's and his own scarf,
makes them into two balls and puts them under his vest as breasts. Then
he takes another handkerchief from his pocket, holds it with the tip of
his fingers with his right hand and waves it delicately. He places his
left hand on his hip. Then he demonstrates the walk of the Kubkuba that
is of a sophisticated town girl. He shows her manner of walk by shaking
his hips and waist in a highly exaggerated and comical manner, looking
to this side and that side while winking in every direction. He finally
exits while Gelagle is looking on amused and the curtain falls on the
first scene of Act one.)

To be continued…


Literature and the African Public

By Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin

In discussing this or these literatures we need to qualify the role of
the creative writer in connection with his existing realities out of
which background he is born: his faculties, his tools, and more
particularly his commitments. There is hardly an uncommitted creative
writer in any given society, time and condition, since the very
phenomenal of being inspirationally engaged em-bodies the sense of
being spiritually and/or emotionally committed. Committed to what? Of
course to his conscience first, and through his conscience to his art.
Then, through his art to the conscious understanding of the needs,
aspirations, prejudices and limitations of his society: and finally,
through the conscious service of that society's expression, a
commitment to the service of universal art, since all art, after all,
converge at the fundamental human level.

we come to the question of where does "Afri­can Literature" stand in
this body of universality, or even more precisely to the old, hoary
question of what in fact is African Literature, I would like to digress
for a moment and consider it under more detached questions: What in
concrete terms, are the languages that should make African literatures,
and what, in appraising these literatures, is the commitment of the
writer to a given society. Certainly, it is not by avoiding the former
all too well beaten argument of What is African Literature, what
our writers, patrons or critics tell us it should or should not be
concerned in, that we can get close to the heart of the matter, but, by
simply admitting that there is no one single body of African Literature
just like there is no single body of Asiatic or European Literature
with a capital "L" and an excla­mation mark. Yet. perhaps, by once
again trying to define the role and commitment of any writer in any
given .society, or even by at least eliminating that litera­ture which
is not born out of the indigenous African vernaculars, we should be
able to arrive at what makes African Literature or not. Thus, Hausa
Literature is African and Bengali is not, Zulu is and English is not

as to why these trees of African languages were not, so fur, given
enough chance to bear fruit, demands of us, to face certain rigid
factors of history and politics.

was Africa considered to be before the colonial days? The Westerners
had mostly to rely on what their travelers, their ivory hunters and
slave traders reported to them, followed by the information from

and finally through the suppressed echoes of the whip of their colonial
administrators. As such, the first introduction of the black man in the
concept of the Western, was in the image of a humiliated humanity. The
slander to his dignity, to his way of life, to his values, which so
incessantly recur as a matter of fact across the "civilized" world
today, drew breath, then. Although his social systems were almost,
destroyed although condemned to grapple with these world wide historic
and current realities which negate his values, yet, it is still not by
his capacity as an individual, not by his success or failure as a
member of a group reflection, but the color of his skin and his
physical characteristics appeared to be the core of the element by
which the Western master judged him. He is put on trial by his very
appearance and played the underdog of his country's class structures.

of these and against these, the African was taught to protest in his
master's ways, in his master's values, in his master's language. Yet
Africa was never mute in her own heritage of self expressions before or
after the colonial days. The problem is how to record her abun­dant
oral literatures in her own languages and preserve them for her
children, how to record the very social traditions both in their
similar and contradicting shades and evolve them in a harmony of
oneness through the taste of time and the criteria of their own humane
level, since any language should be given a chance to develop its
potential of literature.

writer-sons of those who yesterday had to in­terpret their ways of life
to their masters under the point of the colonizer's gun and under his
conditions, should be the ones, whose commitments it is, to reincarnate
these languages.

challenge is not whether they could or could not, but whether they
should at all and there is a double edge to this "should."

first is, should Africa (a) who must face the hard reality of her
political and economical main languages being English and French, (b)
who must face the obvious multiplicity and limitations of the mother
languages presenting the paramount problems of insufficient
ex­pressions, and that one cannot fuse these vernaculars overnight into
one hugs literary common-denominator, (c) who must face the reality
that the two inherited English and French languages have successfully
proved to Africa, and through her to the world, having brought her
standard of higher education side by side with that of the Western
academic scale, (d) who must face the reality that her appeal through
these two wold wide lan­guages had, or should have ticked a dialogged
of under­standing between the "mass" of the outside world and the
African Public, and that, considering herself "lucky" for being the
inheritor of these major languages: Should Africa abandon these useful
tools of communications and literatures which history so inevitably put
at her service?

second edge is, should Africa, (a) who must face the reality of the
cultural bastardization that has been and is being forced down the
throats of the existing human conditions of her societies, (b) who must
face the time honored reality that the language any "native" dreams in,
is the one nearest perfect tool to record or recount his experiences
in, and that no full grown culture or healthy tree, can, (without
losing a good part of its . nuance essence or destroying that of its
counterpart), be transported, transplanted, translated, or
trans-anything on to another root or tradition, (c) who must face the
responsibility that Africa's own cultural trees should be given chance
to bear fruit for their own consumers, the quality and content of the
fruit to be enjoyed or de­nounced by those societies out of whose
background conditions, settings, experiences is born the urge of
in­spiration that carry the scar and laughter of their life, and, by
the criteria of those who have developed a conscious taste for their
vernaculars, and are now awakening into a new blood of national
characteristics and historic awareness; (d) who must realize that there
shall always be an obvious and understandable French and/or English
cultural prerogative in all those African writings of these
expressions, and that as a contrast result, a gradual shrinkage and
eventual extinction of the vernaculars is inevitable, (e) who must
realize, that the creative offsprings from these French and English
cultural prerogatives (however localized they might have been made to
appear), are bound to tag Africa's values on to their own priorities,
thereby exposing a bastardized culture of an Anglo-French well
calculated mid­wifery : Thus, should Africa, at this point take heed
and peel away any lumping up of colonial cultures which shatter her
authentic heritages, under the cover of "hard realities?"

they both are: a dilemma of realities. Yet, by the use of English and
French, the nearest we achieve would be an Africanised English or an
Africanised French, but not an African Literature, since the imported
languages do not spring from the life-root of the peoples expression.
This too is reality. Is it not because Shake­speare originally dreamt
in English that he had the courage to refrain from playing his talent
into the lure of Greek and Latin which held the platform of
inter­national repute then? Do young African talents, unlike
Shakespeare and his colleagues of that era, afford to play their gifts
into the classified columns of Paris and London literary papers, and by
so doing, afford them­selves to live apart and above the needs and
realities of their societies? We have already said that these very many
vernaculars are all too limited in scope to accom­modate sufficient
expressions for a modern thought. But however much effort and will has
been exerted in them so far, was more in the line of the research of
language sciences, and not in helping them develop as possible tools of
literary mediums. Besides, "limitation" had once been the big challenge
at the root of all the major languages of today.

is by recording ideas in the very language one dreamt in, first, and
then having the same translated into other foreign languages second,
that the recogni­tion and growth of vernaculars into wider instruments
of literature is guaranteed; that is, the language of conception is the
one given priority to express in, how­ever limited its scope happens to
be at the beginning. Because, the best one does in translating ideas
from its original concept into another tool of expression, is to get
the nearest possible meaning of the vernacular copied into its closest
equivalent of the foreign language. In other words, the work is more
complete when recorded in the language of its original conception, even
though it might appear limited in the extent of its expression. Having
dreamt or conceiver an idea in one's own language and then depicting
the same into the written words of that same language, is not an all to
simple process, let alone having to translate or adopt the origi­nal
idea or dream into the idiom of an alien tongue whose approach, warmth
and attitude of thought is a far cry from that of the conceiver's
dream. It is a generally accepted fact, that the very sense of a
translated idea in literature disallows the thought of a full blooded
com­pleteness in the work concerned: the focus would distinctly be
concentrated more on the skeleton and theme only, and less on the form
and quality of the content.


enough has not been said yet, about the dilemma of these realities one
is supposed to challenge. The language, or even particularly the social
dilemma of the African Public, (both being the close concern of the
writer), arises not only from the multiplicity of tribal vernaculars
which greatly hinder both inter-African and inter-State communications,
but, also from the fact that to a major extent, the Continent being
born out of traditionally humane communal societies of collectivism is
now bordering on the problem of how to bring about a modern image of
the Africanist thought, without having to succumb into the
materialistic hands of a technological civilization, or, without having
to gamble with the possible contamination of a Marxist ideology; on how
to bring about a modern image of the Africanist thought, acceptable by
all concerned and adoptable into their own particular variations while
at the same time the core of their value judgments would converge into
a historic solidarity of an African purpose. Between these hard
realities we are confronted with, and the survival of our cultural,
language, and social values which we cherish, lies the conflicting
African image. Our conscious question then, is how to bridge this
inevitable transitional precipice for a modern Africa. Since free
Africa is an Africa politically torn between the forces of these world
patronizing ideologies, each force pulling her way from the "isms" of
their disfavor; Washington pulling her away from "the menace of
Communism," Moscow/Peking pulling her away from "the menace of
Capitalism," (i.e., whether she likes it or not), it merely accelerates
the dilemma of the creative artist who must at least live with the
wishful thinking that his gift is a vehicle of free thought and not a
battlefield for the game of dogma-wrestlers. Added to these, new
African governments already under politicians and militarists run amock
with power greed, and cutting as many images of the Africanist concept
as their egoes lead them to feed upon, and mystifying the questions
which the artist looks for behind the ready made answers fabricated to
blunt the thrust of his sincerity. Coupled with this, is the old world,
which, on one hand, like the toothless terror of a deadly wounded god,
plagues and exasperates the modern ideals of the writer into a host of
complexities; into a sense of guilt for the role he affects as the
sensitive medium where the timeless old values conflicted with the
inconsistent and untested new; into a sense of incapacity for his lack
of knowledge concerning what exactly each tribal tradition and
re­ligious custom imposed in a similar or contradicting manner to one
another; into a sense of defense against the dangerously sensational
misinterpretation of the Western film consumers' outlook of Africa;
into a sense of awareness (and acceptance with a pinch of salt) of a
seemingly "civilized" technological world which uprooted man and his
centuries of efforts during two major wars, presenting Africa with a
fait accompli and still threatening life with a third and fatal if not
a total one. On the other hand, the heritage of his fathers which his
"civilizer" almost afaced and which the artist selects on his own
discretion to keep the bridge for a future African generation framing
it into a form of modern angry expression, would add to his mental
exasperation, whenever the questions raised by his ideals fail to gain
corresponding answers under the test of intriguing re­search.


of these, each forms a theory, an image, each in his own Africanness;
differing in the interpretation of his national or local heritage and
experience; and each expressing the self and society inside the
uniform-cut black-cloth, (which is but a pigment cover of the self).
Several theories have already been formed, either out of well-meaning
intentions like Negritude, Pan Africanism or out of sinister motives,
like Apartheid. Yet, the image of the Africanness which we indigenous
Africans have in common, (however much it might have been interpreted
or distorted to fit into the manner and motive of each politician,
writer, critic or racial supremacist), cannot be based on any of these
new adventures of theories, be it Negritude, African cultures of
English Expression for Commonwealth Members, Apartheid or Black Power
for that matter, but, on the predominant basis of a traditionally
humane society whose existent geographic, or even particularly the
glaring historic factors, that have necessitated the birth of these
theories, and perhaps of more to come. The factors, in which and
because of which Africa suffered and still suffers a psychological,
moral, physical, and economical disalig-nation. Disregarding those
degenerate theories of sinister motives for a moment, that's, the
theory of the Apartheid's Clan or its extreme counterpart for a moment,
and considering these theories of healthy intent which are born out of
Africa's indigenous interest. Whatever differences they appear to have
had so far in their supplement towards a total African image, are
differ­ences by degrees and not fundamental differences. This is
because, both Negritude and the theories that are expressed in its
disfavor, often from the British Ex-Colonies, arise from the same
historic backbone of an Africa Lost and Regained. Regained in a
historic factor of violent engagement and still facing a constant shock
of disalignation, still living in the oppressed-oppressor ring of
combatant in protest and jailor in guilt. It is in the regaining of
this total Africanness that her sons cannot afford to prostitute her
traditional sensibilities: sensibilities which are at the core of her
identity and are at the same time both age-bound and current; current
because her die-hard sensibilities are still challenged and influenced
by East-West values; age-bound because these sensibilities which we
treasure have their own established governing values and should awaken
into transitional context by her own right and not by being bogged down
into these threatening forces of doubtful motives. The threat lies
within, (a) the exodus to the cities, mainly because of the centralized
economic oppor­tunities, leaving the communal background, family
concern, language, and values behind, creating a vacuum whose
substitutions are usually elements that sap at the energy of the
traditional ideas resulting in a total altera­tion of the personality;
it lies within, (b) the tendency of the African conscious writer, being
lured and drained in government services out of necessity for his
liveli­hood, and from where he dare not make objective statements in
variance with the existing political thought of his state; it lies
within (c) the avoided ugly question of how British certain
Commonwealth African States, or how French the Senegalese have become
culturally, (however much they might hate or love themselves for it),
it lies within (d) the evaluation of the thrill and fear ridden
god-masks who shall have soon lost their terror but not their
traditional significance and social timelessness in the forming of a
peoples' national characteristics, since out of all religious cult
evolves a peoples' cultural backbone, and out of the craft of the
carver, a nations art; it lies within (c) the realization and
acceptance of the fact that we cannot afford to concentrate literatures
on the aristocracy of the speech making intellectuals and on the
exportation of the same to the patrons' news­papers, but must embrace
and involve all groups of tribe or clan societies and the only way to
do so is by using their vernaculars.

should add this, lest I appear merely advocating against the idea of
all "Westernist" or "Easternist" process of assimilation which have of
course already taken us by the heads. My meaning is simple, that we,
like them, should be allowed to preserve our cultural identities,
(language being the most conscious tool of culture), our experiences,
our conditions and needs with the awareness of responsible contribution
towards man's universality at the basic human level. By stressing on
all authentic African settings and the everyday real­ities originating
in an African experience to be first recorded for the African in his
own language, is not to set any form of an imaginary boundary between
the basic and universal human nature expressed in all sorts of
literatures, but to once more underscore the fact that there can be no
true African Literature without the use of her own language. Nor is
this a mere attitude of aloofness in one's Africanness, a nostalgic
defiance in the Motherland's nationalism: it is a matter of need, a
purpose of concern, for the poet-engaged, the painter, critic,
politician and all concerned in the development of a true cultural
personality of the Africans.

Following is, a line from a West Indian novelist, E. R. Braithwaite's from his "To Sir With Love: -"

have grown up British in every way. Myself, my parents, and my parents
parents, none of us know or could know any other way of living, of
thinking, of being; we knew no other culture pattern," and then, "I
realized at that moment that I was British but evidently not a Briton..
. . I would need to examine myself and fellow West Indian in Mr.
Braithwaite's novel. And we ask no less of an appraisal for Africa,
only, she need not wait until she has lost it all; a cultural right
growing side by side with her political right is what she must appraise
before it is too late, as it appears to be for our fellow West Indian
in Mr. Braithwate's novel. And surely, one's own language is the life
blood of one's culture. The Greek Philosopher, Aristotle, whom
Shakespeare well understood, once said "to have one's own language is a
dignity of a people."

it is not the mere assertion, protest, or politics —moralist
declamation in the oppressor's language to the oppressor, but the
mirroring of a society in all her complexities and in the literature of
her own language which expresses her to herself, that exposes her to
her own image, that she is finally absolved, and it is within this
absolution that the duty of the writer artist lies.

priding yourself in your color, (whatever that is supposed to mean),
and exclaiming it out loud English or French poetry, implied, that you
were once taught to be ashamed of the same or made to feel little
because of it, why not record and proclaim the poem in the vernacular
you dreamt it, in order to embrace and involve your own people first,
and then if and when necessary translate it into the foreign idioms,
second, Why not?

from among the African nations, Ethiopia is one of those who has been
lucky in this context, in that, the "best that has been thought and
said" to quite an extent have, through the centuries, been recorded and
expressed in the languages of her heritage, in the literature of her
own script since 800 B.C., first in Geez, in Tigre-Tigregna, and
finally in Amharic (all languages of wide scope respectively and not
mere dialects as some Western misconceptionists consider them to be),
and all derivatives of the same Geez root, a most ancient script of one
of Ethiopia's earliest people, the Ag-Azi of the time old Adulis, Beha,
and Amum cities whose ruins still stand depicting the country's
historic and cultural backbone. The Western thought which abandoned
African painting and sculp­ture as crude and primitive has had to
reconsider its cocksure disdain in the words of Elie Faure who wrote of
African art as characterizing "the universe itself " and as reflecting
"the orderliness of the cosmos." Who knows what African literatures
would do, if only given the chance of survival by us, her young
writers, who appear to have abandoned her languages? Certainly, what
our new African language need for their development as possible
literary tools, are the attractions of modern realities adopted into
the roots of their own existing potentials, to attract the realities
outside the boundaries of their circulations and cross fertilize them
into their own circumstance without efacing the essential
characteristics of their cultural inheritance, and at the same time
considering the nature of the new qualities that make themselves newly
acceptable to the African warmth; unless, by refusing a wider range of
accommodation for the newer realities, we invite the dangers of
parochialism that may lag the transitional forces long set in motion,
and by so trying create some sensitively narrow customs edged into
their own rigid sterility. Narrow pro­vincialism or clan sense, would
render us, in literature as in progress, crippled exhibitionists
supporting fall­ing tribal walls against one another, and the energies
we exert, would only hasten our being buried with them.

it is not by allowing our spirit to be hypnotized by the specter of
West-East ideologies or bogged down by their cultural inoculations that
we can help realize a totality of an African image, particularly when
this practical and immediate necessity cannot be solved with our
endless debates of abstractions instigated by the sinister motives of
the selfsame "friendly" pharaohs. The African writer, is not long past
the period of questioning his idea as to what ingredient of his African
totality might have been eliminated in the process of his alien
rehabilitating techniques, and what essentials of language, art and
literature he cannot afford to overlook in the grave responsibilities
he exercises in the guidance and background formation of younger
writers. Although he might not afford to disregard these current forces
which are at work and are in a better position to influence the temper
of the times, it must at least be with the conscious awareness that the
influence cannot be at the risk of mental or cultural colonizations,
as, for instance, in the * go white —go beautiful" degenerate notion
inculcated into certain lighter skinned Negro Americans, of the
back­handed encouragement of Apartheid's (the deadliest wedge thrust in
the soul of our Africanness), glaring at us behind the idle but
calculated silence of Anglo-American incorporated. Within this lies the
core of our conflicting value judgments. We might heed Ben Franklin's
words here, " As we must account for every idle word, so we must for
every idle silence," of, that the same friend cannot be a flatterer at
the same time. Certainly there shall be little or no African art if our
laws of creativity were out of touch with these hideous realities being
played against our cultural values.

it is only the literature that involves all groups to this awareness,
the literature of Africa's expression by right of indigenous birth, in
transcending time and dogma and on the digestion of time and
generations, that would help the writer and the consumer to form a
conscious thought of an African future, no longer disalignated in
determining the pace and direction of a world that concerns her. It is,
therefore, more with

literatures that embrace each and every group who have developed a
conscious taste for this vernacular, in the recalling to life and to
his awareness, the structural backbone of the ways of the colonial and
traditional survivals, in forecasting for him what new realities
Africa's culture is about to naturalize, what social impact this new
naturalization represents in relation to or in conflict with that of
his past or passing realities, in the findings of what it might reflect
on the East-West ideological impact as envisaged through the image of
his Africanness, and, in the depiction of these messages which
unfortunately happen too fast for Africa's pace and in which she is
incessantly ham­strung, that the engagement of the African writer
should first stand. It is more in the literatures of a total African
involvement and less in his contem­porary niche in the temple of fame,
that the commit­ment and excitement of the African man of letters who
stands out as her cultural reincarnate and the embodi­ment of her
literatures, would find himself his rightful and deserving


Truth, A Modern Ethiopian Short Story

By Tadesse Liben
  In addition to the grain and coffee
harvested from his farms and plantations which kept the family oven continuously
busy, he had an annual income in cash of 50,000 to 60,000 dollars. Of this money
some was used for building modern houses in the town, bearing rents of 500 and
1,000 dollars a month; some was locked in his safe, and some was always
available in plenty in his pockets for the pleasure of it. Whenever Ato
Demissie, grunting, put his hands into any pocket he drew out 10, 50 and 100
dollar notes and whenever Almaz asked him for 20 dollars he gave her 50; and
when she asked for 65 dollars, he gave her 100. In general what one could read
on the face of the master of the household was: "Come, my soul, eat and drink;
my daughter, live in luxury. Care not for tomorrow. If the worst comes to the
worst, I have many modern buildings and those foreigners to pay the

For Admassu Ayele, a sturdy young man,
things were quite different as soon as he left school for employment. The first
month, until he received his salary, he found it difficult to pay 15 dollars
rent, for a room, buy a canvas bed, blankets
and sheets. He had nobody to turn to in
this world. He came through the
first month only because he was able to go to his old school and get food and
shelter for the night, after promising the
administrator to buy him a present as soon as he received his
first pay.

His father, Ato Ayele, died when Admassu
was a four-year-old child. Ato Ayele Aytenfisu did not leave a piece of land or
a small house for his son, not because he was not clever or lacked foresight in
life: on the contrary, he was a diligent worker and a shrewd merchant. However,
as had been the fate of many an unfortunate merchant, Mother Luck had not smiled
upon him. Thus, he was simply destined to lead a hand-to-mouth

Despite these misfortunes, Admassu was
not a simple-minded child. It was true that when he left school life was
difficult for him. But he adapted himself quite quickly to these hard
circumstances. The main thing was that he knew that he could depend only upon
himself. He bowed and scraped until his brow was coated with dust; he called
upon high-ranking gentlemen in order to gain their acquaintance and future
support. Moreover, he led a scrupulous and thrifty existence based upon the very
necessities of life. So much so that saving 2,000 dollars within two years, in
the good old days when prices were low, he bought 4,000 square metres of land at
Kabena at the rate of 50 cents per square metre. In three years the value of
this land had risen to five dollars per square metre. In fact, some people
predicted that the value of
the land would sky-rocket to a record
price of 10 dollars per square metre. Be that as it may, Admassu did not want to
wait for that opportunity. He sold 3,000 square metres of his land for 15,000
dollars and upon the remain­ing piece of land he had a wonderful house built at
a cost of 7,000 dollars. The house consisted of eight rooms and was a
magnificent sight to see. He furnished it with modern furniture that cost him
2,000 dollars. Soon after­wards, he bought a nice little car for 4,200 dollars.
Over and above this he was liked and highly praised by his superiors for his
ability, efficiency and integrity—so much so that he gained consideration for
promotion. His initial salary was 150 dollars but later it was raised to 450
dollars. In fact life for Admassu, at this time appeared not as the "… visitation of the iniquity of the father unto the
child . . ." but rather as " compensation of the child for the
short-comings of the father."

The proper thing to do at this stage for
one who is in his youth and on whom fortune has so generously smiled is to get
married and have a family. Admassu was thus looking for a life partner, and for this reason
went to
girls' schools whenever he had a chance, to have a look, asking
his friends, too, to look out for a wife for him.

However, the way to look for a life
partner is not like going to the sheep market and selecting a fat and gorgeous
sheep to take home, nor is it like picking one from the pen. A life partner may
turn up one day at some unexpected place, perhaps whilst waiting for the bus or
entering a shop; or she may be found in someone else's house.

Having for some time pursued his goal
unsuccessfully, Admassu was one day returning home from work at 6 p.m. when he
encountered Almaz crossing the Ras Makonnen Bridge and heading towards Saba
Dereja. He immediately felt a pang in his heart, for he was instantly captured
by her beauty and bearing. Stopping his car on the curb he followed her at a
distance and found out where she lived. That very evening, he penned a
love-letter and handed it to her the next morning as she was leaving her house.
Within a month they were on kissing terms. Many week-ends they went for rides in
the car and he did not refrain from buying her certain presents. When he became
convinced that he would marry her, he began to introduce her to his friends and
tell them more about her. In spite of all this, there were, among his best
friends, some who were not happy at his coming to know her. The reason was that
many people spoke badly of her. " She is no good. You see her at every party. She has many boy friends.
the one she loves most of all is one called Tessema."

Some friends of Admassu's came and told
him these things. Amongst them was one—Debebe, who was a very close friend of
Admassu. One day while sitting together at
home with Admassu, Debebe brought the matter up
in the course of a

" Listen to me, Admassu," said Debebe,
" I advise you to forget this girl. I agree
she is beautiful and has a
wealthy father. But what good is the wealth a
woman brings you ? I am telling you, if you don't believe what I am saying, you
will regret it later. She has a lover named Tessema for whom she has the deepest

   Admassu listened silently but later he began to speak.

"Debebe, don't
give ear to all that rubbish," said Admassu
standing up and beginning to pace up and down
the room. " It is all a lie. She loves only me.
And I
asked her at the beginning
whether she had promised to
anybody else, or if she had a lover, and she told
me she had none."

Debebe was incredulous. " Do you think
that she would admit that she had a lover," he remarked wryly, and added: " Is she that much of a fool ?

Admassu was very much agitated.

" I did not compel her," Admassu said. "
Why shouldn't she tell me the truth ? And if she did not tell me the truth only
God knows about it. But as for me I can only accept and believe what I hear from
the woman I love and expect to have as my legitimate wife."

That was a sincere statement on the part
of Admassu. Never in his life had he entertained any suspicion about a person's
honesty nor had he ever questioned anyone about another person's integrity. He
only accepted what people told him about themselves. Thus, what he believed
about Almaz was what Almaz personally had told him. How­ever, it was in
Admassu's nature to make irrevocable decisions if some hidden truth emerged. If
he found a person committing an act he never expected him to commit, he would
there and then decide never to have anything further to do with him. He always
wanted to believe not hearsay, but what he could see and hear directly from the
very lips of the person concerned. Almaz always fulfilled his requests promptly.
She was there whenever and where-ever he wanted her, and if he wished her to
wait for him at a certain place and time,
she was there 10 minutes
before him. From the day they first knew each
other, he never saw her going or talking with anybody he did not know. Hence he
could not believe a word of what Debebe was telling him concerning Almaz. In
spite of Admassu's reluctance to believe such stories, Debebe continued to bring
him scandalous rumours. Ten days after their tete-a-tete, Debebe came again and
started talking about Almaz with special stress upon her unfaithfulness and bad
character, advising Admassu to give her up completely. Admassu, however,
stubbornly refused to heed Debebe's words. At last Debebe got up angrily and,
walking up and down the room, said:

" So you mean to say, she has never
departed from your words and never will. And she does not have a lover called
Tessema. Isn't that what you are saying ? "

   " Yes," answered Admassu.

" All right, be it as you say," said
Debebe impatiently. " But would you do me one last favour if I asked you ?

Debebe and Admassu had a very close
friendship that was bound by mutual respect and affection. It was not a new bond
of casual acquaintance. It was a friendship nurtured during their childhood and
strengthened while they both attended the same elementary school learning the
first stages of reading and writing side by side. They were together for six
years in the elementary school and five years in the high school and after
school five years in the same job. All in all, they had known each other for 16
years and eaten off the same plate, so to speak. It was true that Debebe did not
have the affluence that Admassu had. He was a person who believed in the
present, who lived for the hour. He never had any care or thought

for what was to come and, therefore, he
did not have a car or a house that he could
call his own. However,
Debebe never envied those who, because of their
thrifty living, had earned and owned a fortune. He was pleased with Admassu's
financial success and considered it as his own success in life. Therefore
Admassu, knowing all this about Debebe, did not want to disappoint him by
refusing to hear his request, although Debebe was meddling with his own private
life. After weighing all this Admassu turned to Debebe and said:

" All right, Debebe, tell me what it is
you require and I will do it."

  Then Debebe began to speak.

" Next Saturday, a dinner-dance is being
given by Almaz's school. The party will be
held at the Itegue

Admassu was surprised and said: " She
has told me about it but how did you come to
know about it ?"

" Never mind about that," answered
Debebe, " She must have told you about the party in order that you two might go
there together ? "

" Yes," said Admassu, " but I have not
made up my mind yet."

" Well then, don't go, and tell her not
to go either." " But why ? " asked Admassu confused.

" I am coming to that," said Debebe.' "
You first tell her not to go there. Then you go by yourself to Itegue Hotel and
hide near the entrance. Then you will see that Almaz will come there, as sure as
death, escorted by none other than Tessema."

   Admassu was grieved to hear Debebe's low
opinion of Almaz. However, he had agreed to Debebe's request and therefore he
told Almaz that they would not be going to the party, asking her not to go herself under any
circumstances. Then, as planned, on Saturday evening at approximately
seven o'clock he went secretly to Itegue Hotel and, as Debebe had told him, made
himself in­conspicuous near the entrance. At 8 p.m. the guests began to arrive
and, after 10 or 20 minutes, many girls escorted by many young men, some in cars
and others on foot started to arrive and enter the hotel lounge where the party
was to be held. Admassu waited for Almaz to show up until 10 p.m. However, she
was not among the throng of young ladies and gentlemen who were passing by the
minute through the entrance into the hall that never seemed to be filled by
their presence. At 10-15 p.m., after all guests had arrived and half an hour had
passed without the appearance of further guests, Admassu went home. He spent a
sleepless night of self-reproach: he felt a guilty conscience for believing and
doing what Debebe had told him and suspecting Almaz. There and then Admassu
decided to tell Debebe, when he would next meet him, that Almaz had not come to
the party and that she was not what he thought she was and, moreover, to warn
him not to mention her name again in such a connection.

   He did not have to wait long to tell him this.

Next morning before he was out of bed
there was a knock on his door. It was Debebe
and as soon as he
entered he said, " Now, then. You did go yesterday,

you ? "

   Slowly and pensively Admassu answered. "Yes, I went, but Almaz did not come, as you had predicted."

   Debebe, in a pose that showed defiance,
stared at the ceiling. Admassu did not like Debebe's attitude and, staring at
him asked: " What are you driving at ? What do you mean by that ? "

Debebe was undaunted and in a stern
voice he answered, " Almaz was there yesterday ! "

Upon hearing these words, Admassu could
not hold back his anger. He was furious. He was shaking and swaying with

" You are a black liar," said Admassu
with a voice of fury. " Just because I did not want such things to come to pass,
I made it a point to stay watching up to 10-15 p.m. Let me tell you, in short,
that Almaz is not the type of girl you think she is, and she was not there !

   " I am telling you she was there," insisted

At this time, Admassu, who had been
nursing a secret anger at Debebe's insinuations, answered him: "That is quite
enough. I have already heard too much."

Debebe was not disturbed by Admassu's
sudden outburst of anger and continued:

"At 9-15 p.m. there appeared a young
lady dressed in a very fine evening dress spreading down to her ankles; crowning
her head was a specially made black hat from which a veil descended covering her
face. Didn't you notice this same young lady arriving at the party escorted by a
good-looking young man who was attired in a dark evening suit?"

Admassu had certainly seen such a young
lady and in answer to Debebe's question, he turned his face toward him in silent
acceptance of what he was saying.

At this point, Debebe got up and, with a
flourish said: " That young lady was Almaz in person ! I knew that all this
would come to pass and was waiting secretly inside the hall where the party was
held. I recognized her after she lifted her hat and veil, and the dashing young
man on whose arm she came was none other than Tessema ! "

Admassu did not utter a word. He only
got up, opened the door and asked Debebe to leave the house at

Debebe did not
leave but stood where he was and in a clear
voice, said: " I have told you Admassu, and what I told you was nothing but the
truth. She is not the type
of girl
that would suit you. She is nothing but an immoral
girl. If she were a good girl I would not have
so much. On the contrary
would I not be pleased if you were married to her, if she were a good girl ?

" Yes, now I am beginning to understand
that you would not be pleased with my marriage to her. From now on you are nothing to me. You are not my friend at
Let me tell you this for the last time," said Admassu, controlling
his anger but with a decisive gesture, "Almaz is not the kind of girl that you
are trying to convince me she is. All this time, who knows what your designs
were concerning Almaz. Perhaps you want to marry her your­self by creating
friction between her and me."

    Debebe was aghast when he heard this
point-blank denunciation and, with an awed stare, he asked Admassu: "Me, Debebe?"
Admassu without changing his countenance,
retorted: " Yes, you."

   Debebe was aroused, and in a desperate
tone said: " Are you really saying that to me, Admassu ? "

Admassu without changing his countenance,
retorted: " Yes, you."

Debebe was aroused, and in a desperate
tone said: " Are you really saying that to me  Admassu ? "

   Admassu was in the same mood and
answered: " Yes, I say that to you, Debebe."

That was the end of their friendship
and the breaking-point of the relationship between Admassu and Debebe. They
ceased greeting each other when they met on the street and behaved as if they
had never been friends. A few days later, Admassu sent some elders to Almaz's
house and formally asked for her hand in
marriage. He paid
400 dollars for the clothes Almaz had chosen for the
engagement. He also paid 40 dollars for a pair of shoes, and 47 for a silk
shawl; for 180 he purchased gold jewelry, including his own engagement ring His
own outfit, including shoes and dark wedding clothes, amounted to 400 dollars. The total expenses for the
amounted roughly to 500 dollars.

At first Admassu was grieved that Debebe
did not participate in all this gaiety and festivity. Later, however, he
consoled himself by simply shrugging it off: it was all Debebe's doing and only
Debebe himself was to blame. The wedding was to take place six months after the
engagement. Admassu had ample time to prepare for the great day that was to be
the beginning of a happy period in his life He bought a double-bed, spacious
enough for a couple, a partitioned wardrobe which went well with the bed and all
the equipment in which his future wife, the gorgeous and ravishingly beautiful
Almaz could keep her cosmetics and other aids to beauty. He furnished this room
in such a way that it would have graced a queen's boudoir. He was also laying
aside money monthly, to buy grain and butter for the wedding occasion. While all
this prepara­tion was going on, Almaz, one unfortunate Tuesday morning, was
walking from her father's hall to the kitchen and all of a sudden tripped and
fell. She developed strong pains and when her family took her to a hospital her
trouble was diagnosed as appendicitis. This catastrophe, alas! took place only
20 days before the date fixed for the wedding.

Admassu asked the doctor if she could
take drugs for the time being and postpone the operation until after the wedding
But the doctor answered that her sickness was not something that could be postponed; it needed
immediate operation. Hence, it was of necessity decided that Almaz should
have the operation before the wedding date
Almaz was thoroughly frightened at the prospect
of undergoing such an
operation and told Admassu about her fears One day she looked at him wistfully
and said, "Admassuye I don't know why, but I am afraid. Even when I
am well my weak heart makes me afraid of death, let alone when I have to be operated on under an

Admassu never left her bedside,
assuring and reassuring her that no harm would come of it. He tried to calm her
by telling her that he himself had undergone the same operation

   " Don't you worry Almaz," he was saying. " They don't  just operate without precautions. The
injection and its anaesthetic effect is all calculated according to your
strength. Apart from the surgeon, there is an expert responsible just for this.
Besides, appendicitis has nowa­days ceased to be regarded as a major ailment.
The opera­tion that removes it has become like ridding cattle of ticks. Without
going into all these details, I have already told you that I underwent the same
operation for the same sick­ness six years
ago. Look at me. I am hale and sound
and as healthy as a bull. Nothing
happened to me and I left the hospital after eight days. You will regain your
consciousness three or four hours after the operation. All that happens is that
for 20 or 30 minutes after the opera­tion you may rave and talk unconsciously.
But you will not know what you said unless the people who were standing beside
you tell you about it later.

" For instance, when I had my operation,
I was in the first football team of my school, playing left-wing. The week I was
admitted to the hospital and expecting to under­go the operation, my team was
playing against another school for the cup that used to be awarded to the
winning team in the Inter-Schools Annual Sports Competition. During that week
some members of my team came to visit me at the hospital and I was discussing
with them our strategy on the football field. I was worried about my team's
performance as I badly wanted our team to be victorious. So the day I was
operated on I was told that I had been unconsciously shouting: ' We must not
lose! We must not lose ! We must win the cup !'"

On the day that was fixed for Almaz's
operation, Admassu absented himself from his work and stayed at the hospital.
Before she was taken to the operation room, Admassu slipped into her room and
comforted her for the last time, and as they came to take her to the operation
room on the trolley, he approached her and whispered: ' Cheer up darling." Then, he kissed her and left

The operation took 40 minutes, during
which Admassu walked restlessly up and down the corridor, praying for her safety
as fervently as a saint prays for a sinner. " Dear God," he was praying,
"please, don't call her to Thee today and help her to endure this day's trial.
Give her strength. Mayest Thou help us to fulfil what was started by Thy Good
Grace and save me from being called a bad omen."

After the operation they carried her on
the same trolley back to her room. Admassu was walking up and down in her room
waiting for Almaz to regain consciousness. Her parents too were there, waiting.
Some 20 minutes later Almaz began to move. Admassu, overwhelmed with joy, and
shedding idle tears caused only by his ecstasy, approached the bed and knelt
beside her. Then Almaz's voice was heard:

   " Tessema ! . . . Tessema ! . . . Tessemieye! "

THE AUTHOR — Tadesse Liben
(translated by Kebede Tedla)

His first book of short stories was published in 1957 under
the title "Maskaram" (the first month of the Ethiopian year, which begins in
September). The second collection,
from which this
story is taken, is called " Lelau Menged " (The
Other Way, or the Alternative) and appeared in


The Chronicle of the Emperor Zara Yaqob (1434-1468)

By Richard Pankhurst

In the name of the Trinity in
three persons equal in glory and in majesty, the Father, the Son and
the Holy Ghost, I herewith undertake to describe all the deeds of our
king the Lord’s annointed Zara Yaqob, who was named Quastantinos.1
May the glorious son of Mary, Jesus Christ, do him justice and admit
him to his celestial kingdom, in order that he may enjoy it as much
as he has desired and sought it, may he extend doubly His grace to
his grandson Lebna Dengel, that he may surpass him in glory and in
virtue—like Elisha, the disciple of Elijah, who received in
double measure the spirit of his master, when he ascended to Heaven
borne by the charges of the Spirit—and that he may
pro-long his days till heaven and earth disappear.—Amen. In the
reign of our king Zara Yaqob, there was great terror and great fear
in all the people of Ethiopia, on account of the severity of his
justice and of his authoritarian rule and above all because of the
denunciations of those who, after having confessed that they had
worshipped Dasak and the devil, caused to perish many innocent people
by accusing them falsely of having worshipped thus together with
them. For when the King did hear of such matters, he used to condemn
the accused on the testimony of these informers to whom he limited
himself to say, after having invoked the name of God: " May
their blood fall on you." Acting thus, the King did not pay heed but to his zeal for God. He did not even spare his sons, called
Galawdewos, Amda Maryam, Zara Abreham, Batra Seyon, nor his sons called, Del Samera, Rom Ganayala and Adal Mangesha, nor many others among his off­springs whose names I do not know. The princes suffered death as their punishment, a few princesses survived after having lost all their rothers.

At that time a herald3
announced at the palace the following news: " Learn, O you
Christian people, what Satan has done. Since we have prohibited the worship of idols and the adoration of Dasak and Dino, he has
insinuated himself into our house and has led astray our children." He had them punished severely, they were scourged before a crowd of people who gathered so that they could see their wounds and their torment. They shed tears when beholding this sight or when told about it. Thereafter he made known an edict enjoining on everybody the obligation to take an oath and to carry on their foreheads the following inscription: " From the Father, from the Son and from the Holy Ghost." on their right hand the words: "I renounce
the devil, in the name of the Christ who is God." and on their
left hand: " I renounce Dasak the accursed, I am the servant of Mary, the mother of the Creator of the universe." He who did not heed this prescription had his house pil­laged and corporal punishment was also administered to the guilty party, to recall that
the king should be obeyed by everybody.

A certain Zara Seyon, nicknamed
Zara Saytan, who by his false accusations had caused the death of a
large number of monks, canons and men and women, was, when God
revealed his crimes, forced to become a monk and exiled to Hayq4.

The office of Aqebe Saat5
was then confered on Amha Seyon6, who was greatly esteemed by our King. When this dignitary left or entered his house, nobody could see him. Two or three children alone had access to his quarters, which were contiguous to the royal enclosure,7 and when he needed anything brought from the outside, he would call one of his faithful monks and send him to look for what he wanted, near by or far away. He acted thus for the glory of the royal house, for he had access to the King at all times. All the pages who like him were attached to the court did not have any contact with anybody from the outside, neither did they have any houses and resided at the palace. When these young men used to go out, they were accompanied by a MalkaNa;8 they did not know any women, did not cut their hair without the King’s permission and were always well dressed; if they dared to visit the local inhabitants in order to eat, drink or converse with them, they were put to death as well as those who had received them.

The offices of Belit Wiedad9
of the right and of the left were at that time vacant at the palace.
The King conferred them on two of his daughters, Madhen Zamada, who
occupied the right hand position and Berhan Zamada, the left hand
one. The latter one re­placed her husband Amda Masqal, henceforth
called Amda Saytan, who had been arrested and condemned, when the
King learnt of his numerous crimes, his false­hood and ambitious
projects, shameful projects, un­worthy of the human heart, which
can only enter some­body accursed by the devil. In the same
manner as God expelled from his throne and profoundly humiliated the
devil; in the same manner the king of Israel removed Amda Saytan.

He had also committed another
crime, he had, though married to a princess of the house of Israel10,
married in secret another woman and then had given her in marriage to
the Sasargue11 Amha Iyasus. Berhan Zamada, the wife of
Amda Saytan, having learnt of this, informed the King, her father,
who summoned Amda Saytan to his presence and questioned him. When he
became certain of his guilt, he called together the notables of his
court before whom he exposed all Amda Saytan’s mis­deeds and had
him condemned to death, which he de­served. These judges ordered
a pit to be dug in which he was placed and shot through with arrows
.(?.), as well as Amha Iyasus, the Sasargue and Nob, the
administrator of Dabra Damo12 and of the convent of
Bakuer, who had been their accomplice and who subsequently received
the name of Kabaro Saytan13. Amda Saytan was deported to a
place in the province of Amhara known only to the King. Amha Iyasus
and Nob, called Kabaro Saytan, were exiled to Guasharo14.
The predecessor of Amda Saytan in the office of Belit Wiedad, who was
called Isayeyas and who filled this office when our King was at
Qesat, in the province of Amhara shared the same fate. I was not a
witness to his arrest, but I was told that he was seized, that a
great iron collar was placed around his neck and that he was deported
on account of his crimes to a place which is unknown to me.

After the deprivation of Amda
Saytan, I never again encountered anyone entrusted with the functions
of Belit Wiedad except for the two daughters of the King who had been
raised to this dignity. The King placed at the head of each province
one of his sisters, entrusted with administering the district in his
name. In the Tigre he placed Del Shamera; in Angot, Bahr Mangesha; in
Gedem, Sofya; in Ifat, Amda Giorgis; in Shoa, Rom Ganayala; in Damot,
Madhen Zameda; in Begamder, Abala Maryam, and he assigned the
province of Gan to Atnaf Sagadu, the daughter of one of his sisters.
As for those who were assigned to other provinces, I do not know
their names. Later, the King himself took in hand the government of
the whole of Ethiopia and set up in the provinces Adakshats whom he
appointed in the following manner: In Shoa, there will be a Raq
Masare15 and in Fatagar an Azaj16 and I do
appoint Amda Mikael MalkaNa over all the land of Fatagar and I
entrust to him Faragla Ademnat (?). The holder of the same office,
who was appointed Awrari17 Badjer in the province of Dawaro, was
called Hegano in those of Geber and of Wadj, Eraq Masere in the
province of Damot, Raq Masare in the kingdoms of Gojam, Begemder,
Tigre, Qeda and Angot and Tsahfalam18 in the kingdom of
Amhara, he was styled Raq Masara in Gan, Gedem and Ifat. All the
peoples trembled before the undaunted might of the King.

However, when he sent a
messenger to the Garad19 of Hadya20 in order to
summon him to come to pay his tribute this governor, called Mahiko,
who was the son of the Garad Mehmad and brother of Ite Jan Zela,21
Queen Qan Baltihat22, furnished the following reply:
" No I shall not go to your door23, and I shall not
leave my province," then he sent back the King’s messenger and
refused to comply with the royal order.

One of the officials in Hadya,
called Gadayto Garad2! having learnt of the rebellion of
the Garad of Hadya, set out in all haste to reach the King in order
to inform him of the madness of the latter: "He has made,"
he told the King, "extensive preparations for war and has asked
for help from the people of Adal to ravage the kingdoms of Dawaro and
Bali."25 "Who are his allies?" the King
said to Gadayto Garad, "all the men of Hadya or only a part of
them and what is it according to you, that I must do?"—Gadayto
Garad replied to him: "His allies are Gudola Garad, Diho Garad,
Hadabo Garad, Ganazo Garad, Saga Garad, Qaben Garad, Gogal Garad,
Halab Garad26, here you have all those who are with Mahiko
and, in opinion, the best thing to do, my lord, is to summon the
Garad Bamo, his uncle, who is at Dagen,27 and to make him
in his place Garad of the Hadya, so that he may cross his plans and
destroy his power." Our King Zara Yaqob followed the advice of
Gadayto Garad and sent for in all haste, from the land of Dagen, the
Garad Bamo, who come at once. Our King was then at Dabra Berhan. The
Garad Bamo was appointed Garad of the Hadya and was given rich robes
and Gadayto likewise. They were sent with a strong force composed of
Basar Shotal 28 from the province of Damot. All the men of
Dawaro and of Bali were sent for; the King said to them: " Take
care that he does not escape you and go into the land of Adal."
Then the trumpet sounded; a great number of monks and priests
and the King commanded them to offer prayers in their
churches, offering up much incense and distributing garments among
the poor and needy. On this same day, after inhaling incense, I had a
vision in which there appeared to me our king Zara Yaqob, saying to
the holy personages: " Bring me this rebel, bound with a strong
cord, and throw him prostrate at my feet." – The following night
I saw in my sleep our Holy Virgin Mary30. The holy
personages prayed and asked the Lord my God that this vision should
come to pass.

As for Bamo, the new Garad of
the Hadya, he left for his province and arrived there with the troops
which the King had given him. All the chiefs who had re­volted
came before him and made their submission. At this news, Mahiko
turned with his troops, towards the land of Adal; the men of Damot
pursued him up to Sega and caught up with him just when he was
mak­ing his entry into the amba.32 He had scattered
along the road many precious objects; Marwe33 and
Gemedja34, in the hope that his enemies would halt in
their pursuit to gather them. But they did not stop at them, they
made a vigorous charge, entered his amba at the same time as he,
killed him, cut off his head, his hands and feet. These tidings
reached the King with great rapidity, who rejoiced because of them as well as all of his court, and this feat was celebrated, as during
Holy Week at Easter, with a song and dance. All the holy personages
rendered to God many a thanksgiving for what He granted to their
prayers and that of His annointed Zara Yaqob, and because He had
struck down his enemy so quickly.

Bamo, Garad of Hadya, then came
with the men of Damot, carrying the head of the rebel, as well as his
hands and feet. They presented themselves to the King and told him
what had happened. The King thanked the Garad of Hadya, Gadayto
Garad and the men of Damot; they were given as much food and drink
as they wanted; as for the rebel, his head, his hands, and
his feet were hung at the right hand and left hand gates of the
palace and the Sargun,35 where dogs and hyenas devoured
them with pleasure. Thus the vision sent by our Holy Virgin Mary,
before all these events, and concerning our king Zara Yaqob, came to
pass. Some time afterwards, the King sent all these warriors back
to their provinces after having bestowed on them gifts of rich
garments; Gadoyto Garad was given immunity, as well as his children, till the third generation, from the authority of the Garad of Hadya and the Basar Shotal who had killed Mobiko received a grant of land in his province. Glory be to God who has sustained our King Zara Yaqob who, by the hand of his servant, has secured a swift victory. May he sustain in the same way our King Lebna Dengel, his beloved son, and may he exterminate from the face of the earth his enemies and those who, in the interior of their hearts, hate and execrate his king­ship, all the while flattering him on the exterior. May death strike them everywhere where they live and stay by day and night.

Our king Zara Yaqob then
commanded the con­struction at Dabra Berhan of a Jagual36
with a roof (?) of which the height was to be ten elbows and the
colour white.

He enjoined on the builders
that they should pay attention that it should be well set up, without
any deviation, and to the Raq Masarotj37 of the right and
of the left, and also to the Jan Masare38, who were
employed in the construction of the Jagual, not to take up their
tunics39 until the work was completed. He ordered the
construction of a great building at the gate of the House of the
Lion,40 which was very tall and through which he went in
and out mounted on horseback; at the Shelemat41 gate there
was also a small house and another one at the Mabil42
gate; as for the Sarwajat gate, there was no building near it and
no­body entered by that gate, except for the Aqabe Saat, the
pages and waiters: anybody else who approached it was run through
with a spear. The King commanded also the construction of a solid
palace and its decora­tion with care.

When the building was complete,
it was surmounted with a golden cross. It was then that crosses began
to be placed in the royal house, a usage which did not exist
hithertofore. At the foot of the royal palace, three tents were
erected: that in the middle was called Doulat Bet;43 the
one on the right, the tent of Baala Gemeja, and the one on the left,
the tent of Aqet. To the right and left of these tents, there was a
tall palisade which extended to the Jagual to which it was joined.
Because of its weight, length and thickness, each one of the trees
used for the con­struction of this enclosure and of the Jagual
needed no less than two or three hundred men to carry it; they were
brought from the land of Zega. In between these tree trunks which
were joined with care one to another, there was no chink through
which the eye could see and the bark had been stripped off in order
to produce a surface as white as snow. As for the height of this
palisade, some said it was twenty elbows, some others that it was
fifteen; as for me, I have not measured it.

Another avenue was constructed
leading from the palace to the gate of the church of Dabra Berhan and
bordered on each side by a palisade made in such a way that the King
might be shielded from onlookers when going in or out. Nobody used
that avenue except the King, the Aqabe Saat and young pages. When our
King went to the church to receive com­munion, no canon could
enter; only the choristers, monks and priors of Dabra Libanos’45
Dabra Maryam,46 Bizan,47 Dabra Galila,48
Holol,49 Qayasa, Malago, Daraba Abaye, Saade Amba50
Waldeba, Dabra Maryam, Gerealta and Hensa Maryam as well as
other clerics whose names I do not know and who do not eat meat nor
drink wine; however on feast days, canons were invited from all
places, from Dabra Berhan, Dabra Nagnadguad,51
Yala-bash,52 Garama, Iyasus, Gemedja Bet Maryam and
Masqal; they spent the whole day at divine service, though, as I have
mentioned above, they were sent away when the time for communion
came. No one approached the Euergetes,54 except for the
Aqabe Saat, his two children called Gabra Alfa55 and Takla
Maryam,56 the head canon Gabra Iyasus57 and a
poor man called Yesehaq. On the days when the King communicated,
there was no celebration without these five. When he left, the
canons, who had spent the day in chanting, were sent for. They were
led within the precincts of the palace and were conducted to a place
situated above and towards the middle of the three tents (?).

This place was called Laelaye
Fit,58 and the tent situated below which was the place for
the Jan Bet Tabaqi, was called Tahtaye Fit.59 In the
Laelaye Fit, these canons were served with as much food as they
wanted, they were given hot or cold drinks in great abundance, and
they took home what was left of the bread and drink. The food and
drink came from Beta Fatagar,60 Beta Gene Baaltihat,61
Beta Geber of the right and left and the King himself looked after
the service at the tables. The first was called Seruye, the second
Itarfed and the third went under the name of "the King’s table".
This last one was reserved for the King and at it no meats were
served to anyone without his orders. As for Sodj Yahaja, called Sodj
Alaza, and all the Tsewa Betsarwajet,61 Bodel Domanu,
Baadel Shotal (and to all whom he had granted this grace, they were
given their food from his table. The other Tsewa Becar Shotal), Deb
Meleat, Jan Meleat, Baamba, Baadel Wejat, Damana Amba, Ba Bahr Wogot,
Baadel Mabroq, that is to say all those who dwelt around the royal
enclosure, ate in the place called Laelaye Fit. A screen of sycamores
(?) stretched from the tent to the palace, which extended to the left
for a distance of a hundred and thirty or a hundred and fifty elbows.
It was there that royal justice was done, that the guilty were
punished and that the pleas were heard of those who came with

The Jan Bet Tabaqi did not
officiate at this place, but stayed in the Tahtaye Fit; in to the
Laelaye Fit went only the Seraq Tabaqi62 and Jan Daraba.63
It was there that the Azazotj and the Malkana chosen from among
faithful monks from the Tigre (?) gave their orders Sometimes they
went down to the Tahtaye Fit and there also they did much business,
but what was most important was done in the Laeleye Fit.

the Azazeyan64 entered the apartments where the King was
present and when they spoke to him, they went down on their knees and kissed the floor with fear and respect, as well as each time when they heard his voice. They did not wear white tunics, but Qalami, Kuafre and Shaqueta,65 and this dress was obligatory as much for the Azazeyan as for the Getotj,66 the Liqa Matara67 and his following, the Jan Masrotj, the
Iqaqetatja68 and his following and the Jan Hacana.69

The Jan Bet Tabaqeyan were not
attired in the same manner; by day and by night, without omitting one
single moment, they stood to the right and to the left in the Tahtaye
Fit where lamps burned during the night. In the Laelaye Fit, the
Seraq Tabaqi and the Jan Darabotj carried in their hands wax torches
during the day; but lamps were only lit in the Tahtaye Fit. When they
celebrated a feast, they held it in an apart­ment of the palace
and did not go down to the royal tent, but stayed where they were. As
for the canons, they put on again their white robes and, the
ceremonies, being over, they went home according to their usage. The
Jan Bet Tabaqi did not rest until after having cleared the table.

When the King used to go to
church in secret and without being seen by anyone, one of the pages
of the palace used to go out and give orders to all the Tshawa Baadel
Shotal, Baadel Domana, and to all the Orebasar Wadjet, Domona Amba,
Baadel Wodjet, Baadel Mabraq and Baadel Masqual;70 he
announced to them the King’s departure for the church; then these
marched forth, sounding their horns and beating their drums, up to
the door of the church which they did not enter. The Baadel Mabraq
and the monks of Bizan surrounded the palace on the inside of the
pali­sade (?); the monks carried swords and scabbards and the
Baadel Mabraq carried bows and javelins. During the holy sacrament,
all the Tshawa were given bread and beer, till they were completely
satisfied. Thereupon the King would leave the church and return to
his palace along the private way, without anybody seeing him or
knowing anything about it, according to usage, except for the Aquab
Saat and the pages of the court. There­upon these pages told the
Tshawa, by waving to them, that the King had left and returned to his
palace. Those then gave themselves up in emulation to frantic
dancing, uttering in the language of their countries cries which
could be heard far away, blowing their horns and beating drums, which
produced a mighty uproar and a great commotion. Then they were told
to return to their quarters.

Inside the palisade a Nazret
Bet71 had also been set up, containing thirty tershema72
to the right and as many to the left. There, revenues from the whole
of Ethiopia were gathered, precious objects and everything that was
useful; all that was not useful was placed in the Mangeshet Bet and
in the Barakat Bet.73 When the order was given, the loom
used to sew the shelamat74 and all that was needed by the
royal household was brought, as well as the gomedja and the marwe,
from the Nazret Bet to the Mangeshet Bet and to the Barakah Bet, in
order to sew and adorn them. The servants at the table came entirely
from the Beta Geber. Those who were admitted to it were those who
formed the train of all the queens, Gera Baaltehat, Qan Baaltehat,
Baaleta Shehena,75 Yagalagel Gazet, Waserbat Bet: the
Qaysa Hace76 and the Liqa Dabtara, the Serag Maasare,77
the Liqa Matsham, the Liqa Qaqetatj,78 Baaldjeho and Baal
Damo,79 Maryam Welta and the king undertook the
distribution. Everything was brought to the Nazret Bet to the right
and to the left, then they went forth to give to all the canons, to
all the Tshawa and all those signalled out by the King, bread
beer and mead, Wayedot, Shanome and Mogorya.80 Meats
prepared for festivities were stored in the Nazaret Bet; as for food
and drink left over from previous banquets, it was distributed to
everybody as I have stated it above.

Inside the right hand palisade,
above the way from the tent and at the foot of the palace, a building
was put up to house the great number of horses which were lodged
there to hide them from the gaze of strangers, and there were some
which were bridled and harnessed all day long at the approaches of
the palace.

sprinkled ceaselessly with holy water, from dusk to dawn, the King’s
palace inside of which they made their rounds. Among these priests
were some brought from Amhara and Angot in order to carry out these
functions. They recited the Gospels, the Psalms of David, formulas
denouncing Satan and chanted the psalm beginning with the words, "May God rule", without pause, from evening to morning, and, all the day long, they did not cease their sprink­ling with holy water; for the sorcerers, envious of the faith of the King and of the greatness of his justice, were plotting bad designs against him. The King him­self has said and written in his works how the evil ones cast spells on him at home and on the road when he was travelling, and how they disturbed a christening ceremony one Sunday,81
at Debra Berhan, after the conclusion of the ceremony. All this, and
how God delivered him from these spells, has been clearly told and
described by our King himself, Zara Yaqob, scion of Israel, full of
confidence in the name of the Trinity.

When the King learned of this
manoeuvre of the sorcerers against baptismal celebrations, he
immediately gave orders that a pit be dug in the ground in the
enclosure where the church stood, and ordered the builders to
construct in all haste a cistern and all the entourage of his court,
both men and women to draw water to fill it. His orders were carried
out and God accomplished thus what the King had desired and intended.
Since that day and for many years till his death, this cistern was
used for baptism, over which a building was erected which was secured
with a strong bolt. The holy water therein contained was of help for
the sick, till the time when this baptistry was destroyed by the fire
which consumed the church.

Our King decided that baptisms
should henceforth take place to the right and quite near the church,
giving us reason for this institution that had formerly found this
arrangement adopted for baptisms in the courtyard of the church of
Dabra Libanos, as well as in the temple erected by Gabra Masqual at
Hongung in the Tigre. Besides the King said, " I have read in the
Mashafa Kidan that baptisms should take place to the right of the
church; and henceforth, as a Christian people, see to it that in your
provinces and your districts, the law of God may come to pass and the
works of Satan and sorcery cease." He ordered the punishment of
those who would not observe his prescriptions and delivered their
houses to pillage.

When the King wanted to make a
Gueezo, there was a great commotion and a great agitation at the

of his departure from the palace: all recoiled before him and kept
their distance in a timorous and respectful attitude. Those who
carried the baldechin and there were three big men, marched near him,
as well as the fan bearers. Those who carried the Shamma (banner?)
unfurled marched at a certain distance and surrounded the King
mounted on his horse, for on the day of the Gueezo, he went forth not
mounted on a mule, but on horseback. Away in front and in the rear,
there was a great number of Meserqana and Deb Anbasa who according to
prescription, sounded their horns and beat their drums during the
royal progress and when he returned to his quarters.

The King stationed in Dawaro
numerous Tshawa who had the names of Arquaye Basar Wadjet, Badel
Sagana, Baadal Amba, Badel Deb, Badel Nad, Baadl Mbrq, Draqo Basar
Wadjet, Jan Godab and several others whose names are unknown to me.
These officers were appointed as a result of an act of
insubordination towards the King on the part of the previous Tshawa
Jan Sagona. In order to avoid his anger which they had provoked and
the remonstrances which were addressed to them they went to Adal and
stayed there for some time on some slight pretext. After the return
of these Tshawa, the King decided to humiliate them: "In your
pride," he said to them, "you have risen against us and
against the Azmatj which we had set over you. When he punished you
and made you obey, you took offence and went off to Muslim lands. We
have, as much as God has commanded us, appointed new Tshawa. Keep to
the right way and the right law and abandon the bad way to which you
have pledged yourselves. If you refuse, we will judge you and we will
deal with you as we think fit."

The King put immediately
numerous Tshawa in the provinces of Bali and of Hadya, as well as in
those of Bagemender, Gojam, Fatagier, Ifat, Gedem, Qan, Angot, Aseda,
Tigre, Bahr Amba and Sarawa Besar Wedjet (?). In all of these
provinces he stationed numerous Tshawa and gave them special names
accord­ing to the province where they were stationed.

increased the power of Bahr Nagash and raised him much above all the
shums: he gave him authority over those of Sire and of Sarawe as well
as over the two Hasemen Kantiba and over the shum of Bur. He thus set
him up as a prince over them. Our King Zara Yagob reorganised in a
befitting manner the administra­tion of Ethiopia and was in all
reality for this country a torch whose light dispelled darkness from
it. May God grant him a portion of the kingdom of heaven, without
judgement and examination, and that he may encompass by his
benevolence as by a shield his son Lebna Dengel for the sake of his
pure mother.

When our King Zara Yagob went
into the district of Aksum to fulfil the law and the rite of
coronation according to the rites followed by his ancestors, and when
he arrived at the confines of that locality, all of the inhabitants,
as well as the priests, went to meet him and welcomed him with a
great rejoicing; the shums and all the Tshawa of the Tigre were on
horseback, carrying shield and lance, and the women, in great
numbers, gave themselves up, according to their ancient
custom, to an endless dance. When he entered within the gates
of the town, the King had on his right and on his left the governor
of Tigre and the administrator94 of Askum who carried and
waved according to custom, olive branches; it is for this reason that
the governor of Tigre is called Aqabe Sensenga.95 After
arriving within the walls of Aksum, the King had brought to him much
gold which he scattered as far as the city gate on the carpets which
were spread along his route. This amount of gold was more than a
hundred ounces; as for more, I do not know whether it was thirty or
forty ounces. The King did this for the glory of Sion and distributed
largesse as the Kings his predecessors. On the 21st of the month of
Ter, the day of the death of Our Holy Virgin Mary, the rite of
coronation was carried out, during which the King was seated on a
stone throne. This stone, together with its supports, is only used
for the corona­tion. There is another one on which the King is
seated when he receives the blessing and several others, to the right
and left, on which are seated the twelve chief judges. There is also
the throne of the metropolitan bishop.

During his stay at Aksum, our
King regulated all the institutions of the Church and prescribed to
be recited each day, at canonical hours, prayers which up to that
time had been neglected. He convened to this purpose a great number
of monks, he founded a convent, the head­ship of which he
confined to an abbot who had the title of Pontif of Askum and who
received an extensive grant of land called Naeder. He accomplished
this work from devotion for the Virgin

Mary and to perpetuate his own
memory and that of his children and of the children of his children.
He summoned some catechists, who were attached to the convent, and
presented to the church a great number of ornaments and a golden
ewer, revived all the old traditions, spread joy in these places and
returned thence, satisfied.

Arriving in the land of
Tsahoya, in Amhara, he went up a high and beautiful mountain, the
aspect of which he found pleasing; at the top of this mountain and
facing east, he found a wall which had been raised by King Dawit, his
father, with the intention of raising at that place a shrine which he
did not have the time to finish: in the same way the ancient King
David, who planned raising a temple to the Lord, could not com­plete
his task which was completed by his son Solomon; our King, Zara Yaqob
fulfilled the intention of his father by raising a shrine to God to
the west of this mountain. All, poor and rich, and the shums
them­selves, were ordered to carry stone and this edifice was
speedily erected. They embellished this locality, which underwent a
great transformation and where two chur­ches were built, one
called Makame Gol and the other Dabra Nagnadguad. The King attached
to them a certain number of priests and canons to whom he gave grants
of land. Moreover, he founded a con­vent and placed in it monks
from Dabra Libanos, who he endowed in a similar manner.

After having settled all
matters relating to this foundation and its priests, consecrated
definitely to the celebration of the feast of the Virgin which takes
place there constantly, and, having made a gift to the monas­tery
of vestments adorned with gold and silver, he left
these parts, went into the land of Dago where he had
previously resided and there began the construction on top of a high
mountain, of a shrine dedicated to Our Lady Mary, having been
captivated by the beauty of this elevated site which dominated all
the neighbouring hills. He had for this shrine, which he named Makona
Maryam, a particular predilection, endowed it generously and
established priests there to celebrate the adoration of God. He gave
this foundation, in memory and that she should raise his tomb there,
to the Queen Gera Baaltehat, who was called Fre Maryam and who was
the mother of Berhan Zamada, Medhen Zamada, Sabala Maryam and Del
Debaba. It was there, in fact, that he was buried afterwards
according to the desires of our King Zara Yaqob.

In the seventh year of his
reign,103 (1441?) he left the province of Amhara and went
to Eguba, situated in the district of Tagulat, celebrating there the
ceremony of baptism105 and made halt in that land which he
much liked. While he was there he received a message from the
patriarch Abba Yohannes informing him that the Muslims had destroyed
by fire the monastery of Metmaq in Egypt, being enraged at Our Lady
Mary having appeared in that locality, and because a great number of
Muslims, who witnessed this miracle, had become converted to the
faith of the Christians. When he received this message, our King Zara
Yaqob burst into tears and was profoundly stricken, as well as all
his court and the pilgrims who had made formerly the voyage to
Jerusalem. Nevertheless, to console him­self and to restore his
courage and that of his people, he said to them: "Do not weep O
Christian people, and do not feel afflicted because the monastery of
Metmaq in Egypt has been destroyed. We will build here a church to
Our Holy Virgin Mary and will call it Dabra Metmaq." Our King
commanded at once the con­struction of a church at that place and
granted it land in the district of Tagulat. He caused ornaments to be
executed in it, brought its construction to a finish and installed
priests there. Following up his declaration and the oath he had made,
he called it Debra Metmaq. While he was in that province, news came
that Arwe Badlay was marching against him. At once he left Dabra
Metmaq and the district of Dago, crossed in turn the districts of
Azor Gabaya, Afof, Yalabasha, Agam Gabaya and arrived in the
Dawaro110 with a small force known by the name of Hasab
Bawasan. The messengers which he had despatched to the holy monks of
Dabra Libanos and to other monasteries, to an­nounce these events
brought to him the following exhortation: "Be without fear, for
God has heard the prayers of the saints and you will be victorious;
you will triumph over your enemy by the might of God."

The Garad of Hadya also sent
word to the King to tell him to summon him if he had need of his
help; he gave at the same time Arwe Badlay assurances of his loyalty
and of his support, but this was only a false promise.

Our King Zara Yaqob sent word
to the Garad of Hadya not to come, to stay at Ayfors, to set up his
camp there and to stay there until he summoned him. The King then
despatched a Malkana to him and, following the orders he had
received, the Garad of Hadya stayed at Ayfars. This Garad, called
Mehimad, was the father of Queen Eleni, Qan Baaltehat; he was not
trusted because he was Moslem as well as Arwe Badlay, and it was for
this reason that he was kept away from the fighting area, for his
intentions were suspect.

When our King Zara Yaqob came
across Arwe Badlay and his innumerable army, he was dismayed by it;
he invoked God, girded his loins with the power of the Holy Ghost and
made ready to do battle with his small force. The Aqabe Saat, Amha
Seyon, made the following remark to him: "Ate you not too eager,
O my master, to do battle without waiting that your army come to your
aid; for you have here only weak forces; you yourself are not
prepared and you have not put on your battle armour, nor disposed the
battle array? How can you take such a decision?" Our King took
up the conversation and said to him: "Know you not these words
of the prophet David": "The King is not succoured by a
numerous army, nor the hero by his personal valiance; the horse rears
not and delivers not by his own strength. As for me, I have put my
confidence in the Lord. He will come to my aid in His mercy."112
And immediately he gave the order to raise the umbrellas, sound the
Meserqana, beat the Deb Anbasa, and to advance the standards on all
sides, and all were impressed by this imposing and majestic
spectacle. Seeing this, Arwe Badlay, perplexed and seized by fear,
said to his people: "Did you not tell me that it was not the
King who was marching against us, but his shum Hasaba Wasan while it
is the King himself who is at the head of his troops?" While
they were thus discussing this, our King Zara Yaqob broke through to
this unbeliever and overthrew a part of his army. A soldier threw a
dart into the face of Arwe Badlay; the latter broke it with his hand
and threw himself at the King in order to seize him, but his rashness
was the cause for which God made him fall by the King’s hand. The
latter plunged his lance in his neck and cut his throat. All those
who were around the King rejoiced because of this, but he praised on
high the name of the Trinity. Thereupon all the Muslims who formed
the army of Arwe Badlay took to flight, and the Christians pursued
them killing them with their swords and lances or tumbling them down
precipices. The number of those killed was formidable; not a soldier
survived out of the enemy army. God had punished them according to
their pride. Arwe Badlay’s brother, Karadiu, fled and reached the
river Hawash; as the King was worried by what might have eluded him,
the Jan Segana began to pursue him and caught up with him at a place
where he halted. They cut his head off which they brought to the
King, our lord; at this sight, he rejoiced and danced a lot: "Today
is verily a day of gladness," he cried; "truly the glory of
the birth of Christ has worked a miracle." For it was the day of
the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the 29th of the month of Tahsas.

The King then had the dead
counted, the prisoners, as well as those who fell down precipices and
the horses which had been captured: their number was consider­able.
A large number of priests then arrived, intoning joyful canticles; in
each town there was a celebration for men and women who gave
themselves up to dancing and rendered thanks to God. The King
summoned the Garad of the Hadya, who had remained at Ayfars, so that
he might witness this miracle, and he gave him rich garments when he
had obtained proof that his intentions had been good. Then the head,
hands and feet of the unbeliever Arwe Badlay were cut off; his body
was cut up and pieces of it were sent to all the provinces: his head
to Amba and the other members to Aksum, Manhadbe, Washl, Djedjeno,
Lawo and Wiz. Dabra Nagnadguad received his accoutrements, his lance,
his sword, his umbrella, his Haykal as well as all the jewels
belonging to his wife, his effects and his shirts of many colours
were divided up between Dabra Metmaq, Seyon and other holy places.
And all the inhabitants of Ethiopia cast stones on what was left of
his body.

Glory to God who has fulfilled
the wishes of Zara Yaqob, His anointed, and who, by means of a
tre­mendous miracle, has granted the arm of our King the power to
overthrow his enemy; that He may fill him yet with joy in seating him
in His celestial abode to­gether with all of his elect, Amen. May
he doubly extend his grace to King Lebna Dengel, his son; may he
always afford him his aid to exterminate his enemies and may he
prolong his days! Amen and amen.

Our King Zara Yaqob then
returned full of joy and gladness and reached the province of
Fatager, at a place called Telq, where he had been born and where he
lived and began raising a shrine to Mikael. His father, Dawit, had
also established many foundations called Yalabasha where he had
lived; there also he built a great shrine which he called Martula
Mikael and another called Asada Mikael. Both these shrines were
served by one archpriest. The King en­dowed each with land,
installed priests there, regulated equitably that which concerned
them and ordered that they should be rapidly brought to completion.
And God fulfilled his desire. May He extend also to him His celestial
kingdom! Amen.

He then went into the land of
Euzarda, where too he raised a chapel which he called Dabra Sehin and to which he attached some canons chosen among cantors and those who were preparing for the priesthood. He granted an hereditary estate to secure their future, as well as lands to commemorate the memory of the Virgin and his many feast days.. After having settled the foundation of this church and its priests, our King left this
locality and went into the land of Kaleta where he stayed only for a
few days; then he crossed the river Warari and arrived at Iba; he
resolved to remain in that locality which appealed much to him
because of its beauty. Shortly after his arrival, there was an
uprising of the children of Estifa, who declared that they did want
to prostrate themselves before Our Lady Mary not before the cross of
her son. The King had them summoned before himself, made them repeat
what they had said and, during a discussion in which his priests took part, he confounded them and covered them with shame; but they did not abandon for all this their errors.

The King then had them judged,
convoked all his court and the pilgrims who had returned from
Jerusalem, and it was decided that " they should undergo special tortures till they died. Their noses and tongues were cut off and they were stoned to death on the 2nd of the month of Yaktit.
Thirty-eight days after their stoning, the 10th of Magabit, the day
of the feast of the Cross, a light appeared in the sky and remained
visible in all the land for several days, which caused that our King
took fancy to this locality which he named Dabra Berhan. He built
their a magnificent church which he placed under the invocation of
Our Lord Jesus Christ and which, through the efforts of the Aqete
Jar124 and of all the governors of Shoa, was finished in
eight days, for he had ordered haste. To roof this church, all the
inhabitants of the area without distinction brought straw from Gedem
up to Fatagar. The light appeared for a second time when the mass was being said, and for a third time during the night, when the
choristers were intoning in the church the hymn "God reigns".
This light was clearly seen by the choristers and by the King who
declared they had seen it descending on the church. Zara Yaqob, who
had from Queen Gera Baaltehat the land of Iba, made the vow to give
it to this church for its priests and its services. He resolved to
fix in this place his residence, ordered all his officials to settle
there as well and to set up there his residence, and to all the
Tshawa who were at court to take part in the building of the Jagual
and the enclo­sure; he ordered all the shums of Shoa to bring
trunks of wild olive to contribute to this construction. They did not bring any other trees except olive trees from which they stripped off the bark, as I have described above, so that the Jagual might be white. Nobody was allowed to approach this enclosure.

During his stay at Dabra Berhan, our King arranged all the institutions of his kingdom: it was then that men were put to death and that others were condemned to exile for crimes against God or against His anointed; it was then too that those who had carried out the will of God and obeyed the King were rewarded and heaped with honours.

It was already a long time that
the King had lived in that locality when a great plague came which
killed such a great number of people that none were left to bury the
dead. The King then began the construction of Beta Qirqos to the
right of Dabra Berhan, so that God might take the plague away from
the place, mindful of the promise of the Eternal One: "The
plague will not come to a place where a shrine be raised to your
memory and there will be there neither drought nor dearth." The
faith and confidence of our King Zara Yaqob drove the disease from
the gates of his palace as he had hoped. He accordingly commanded his
sons and his queens to present Beta Qirqos, Gemedja and books; he
resolved that sermons should only be held in that church and that
those who might want to hear them would not be able to hear them

regulated worship according to the Orthodox faith and made it known
that the old Sabbath day should be as religiously observed as Sunday, as accordingly the Apostles laid it down in their canons, where it is said: "We, Peter and Paul command that the slaves work for five days of the week and consecrate the two others to God." He also
commanded the celebration of the 29th of each month to glorify the
birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ and because he had that very day
vanquished Arwe Badlay; he demanded that the 32 feasts of Our Lady
should be, the same as Sunday, celebrated with the greatest
punctuality, just as the bishops and patriarchs have prescribed it,
under the pain of excommunication; he also instituted a monthly feast
in honour of Saint Michael, as well as feasts for all the priests and
arch-priests of heaven, for the four heavenly animals,131
the prophets and apostles, and recommended the sanctifica-tion of all
these feasts by alms, largesse and large distri­butions of bread
to the needy. He embodied these injunctions in his holy books, which
are entitled: " The Book of Incarnation," "The Book of
Light,"132 "The Book of the Birth,"133
"The Abjuration of Satan," "The Book of the
Substance,"134 "The Treasury of Mysteries"135
and "Reign of God."

While he was carrying out this
settlement, the King remained for 12 years without leaving Dabra
Berhan, and during the following two years, he limited himself to
going to Falago, Dabra Metmaq and to some other localities in the
neighbourhood, returning as soon as possible to Dabra Berhan, which
makes in all 14 years, after which our King Zara Yaqob died.

God, in His justice and His great mercy, divide with him the kingdom
of heaven; may He give him the celestial Jerusalem, which needs
neither the sun nor the moon to light it, and where he will joyously
find all the prophets, the apostles, the disciples, all the just and
all the martyrs; may He protect his son Lebna Dengel and watch over
his life and kingdom till the day that He comes down from heaven to
judge the living and the dead by His power; may He exterminate all
His enemies from the face of the earth, for the sake of the Virgin
Mary, His pure mother; may He, each day and at each hour, fill him
with joy and happiness, and that all the nation may say, invoking the
flesh and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ: "Amen, Amen!"

Chapter dealing with Justice and Faith.

During the reign of our King
Zara Yaqob, there was in the whole land of Ethiopia a great peace and
a great tranquility, for the King taught justice and faith, and he
can be compared to the prophets and apostles for the excellence of
his predictions and his doctrines. The Ethiopian people had, in fact,
neglected the precepts of their faith and the sanctification of the
Sabbath and feast days; I have witnessed myself, in my youth, that
the Sabbath was profaned and that everybody worked on that day.

It was only beginning from the
ninth hour,137 when the trumpet was sounded, that all
activity ceased and that people, starting their rest, used to say:
"It is now that the Sabbath begins." Other feast days were
no better observed; the King re-established them and pre­scribed
that the Sabbath should foe as holy as Sunday, without any
distinction, according to the prescriptions of the holy apostles.
Likewise, he ordered, that the 33138 feasts of Mary, the
monthly feasts of St. Michael and the Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
as well as other feasts should be observed punctually. Moreover, he
gave instructions that in churches there should not only be a single
altar, but two or several, and that among these there should be one
of them consecrated to Mary. He taught and prescribed to be taught
the Credo, the Pater­noster, the Decalogue and the six words of
the Gospel, the belief in one only God in three persons, the
spiritual birth of the Son from the Father without mother and the
second birth of the Son issued from Mary without father. All these
beliefs and these practices, as well as others of a similar nature,
were taught by our King, who ordered them to be taught to all men and
women by calling them ail together on Sabbath days and feast days, in
every locality. He ordered the shums to pillage the houses and seize
the goods of priests who would not follow these prescriptions and
would not provide this teaching in their churches.

Chapter on the Coronation and on the Organisation of Churches

After his accession to the
throne, our King Zara Yaqob went to Aksum, settled equitably the
affairs of that place, renewed the priests and went through there the
coronation ceremony, as did his ancestors, with the assistance of
legislators established for this purpose since a long time ago; then
he returned thence full of gladness and arrived in the land of Sahay.
He came across there an attractive site, where he had erected a
handsome residence.139 He had transported there from Seyon
the remains of his father Dawit in spite of the lively opposition of
the inhabitants of Mawaal, who refused to give up the coffin of this
king, because three Sasorgutj, called Ab Radai, Gabru and Metus had
told them: "Do not give up the sepulchre of our King Dawit, and
if they come to ask you for it, make no reply to the messengers of
the King and the pontiffs."

The King, angry with the
inhabitants of that locality, sent some Tshawa, picked among the
Baadal Jan, who seized, together with their wives and their children,
the people of that town who had refused to obey him and brought them
to the royal palace. These confessed that the three Sasorgutj had
advised them not to give up the remains of King Dawit. The King at
once summoned these three Sasorgutj whom he questioned in these
terms: "When I intimated to you my intention to transfer here
the remains of my father Dawit, you told me: ‘Yes, you do well.’ Why
have you then advised the inhabitants of the town to oppose what the
King desired?" for this reason he had these Sasorgutj severely
punished and condemned them to prison. They were struck off the roll
of the Dabtara and it was decided that their descen­dants could
not become either Sasargue nor Dabtara. As for the inhabitants of the
town, they were pardoned and returned to their district. The King
placed the remains of his father in a subterranean chamber which he
had made for this purpose at Dabra Nagnadguad. For the events which I
have just told, I refer to the evidence of the Serag Masare Yohannes
who lives among you and knows everything.

When the Queen Egzie Kebra, his
mother, began the construction of a church at Malza, our King begged
her and persuaded her by wise reasons not to continue
this task, so that they might not be separated from each other
after their death; for this reason, he demolished the church and had
it reconstructed at Dabra Nagnadguad, which pleased his mother. Our
King Zara Yaqob, who had already had the remains of his father
transferred to Dabra Nagnadguad and who later had his mother buried
there, wanted later to be reunited with them. It is for this reason
that he had a great attachment and a signal veneration for Dabra
Nagnadguad and gave to the priests of that church vast estates to
celebrate his memory, that of the King his father and of the Queen
his mother.

Having made these dispositions,
he raised in the province of Dago, where he had spent the first years
of his reign, another shrine to which he gave the name of Makana
Maryam;144 he fitted it out and made a present of it, with
full property rights, to Jan Hadya, the wife of his youth, who had
the title of Gera Baaltehat145. He left that place in due
course and came to the district of Tagulat, where he built a church
which he called Dabra Metmaq, and having learnt while he was in that
locality that Arwe Badlay was marching against him, he commanded
public prayers to be said everywhere, left in all haste with a few
troops, confident in the might of God and the aid of his mother, Our
Lady Mary, and arrived in the province of Dawaro, where Arwe Badlay

He did battle with him on the
the day of the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the 29th of the month
of Tahsas, and God, miraculously manifesting his power,
overthrew the unbeliever by the hand of our King, Zara Yaqob. The
latter rendered unto God many a thanksgiving for the aid that he had
so promptly afforded him.

He then ordered the seizure
of the garments of Arwe Badlay and those of his wife, had his
members cut off one by one, and ordered the count, of those, or the
enemy army, who perished by the sword or by falling down precipices.
Their number was so considerable that all those who had seen or heard
talk of the prodigies which God had accomplished by the hand of his
anointed, with such a small army, were full of wonder.

Our King presented the rich
garments of this unbeliever, his wife’s jewels and his umbrella, to
Dabra Nagnadguad and to other places. His head and his members were
sent to places where markets were held, so that the whole people
might see them and render thanks to God, and this event caused great
joy every­where. When our King, Zara Yaqob was returning with
contentment in his heart, priests from all parts came before him
chanting canticles, as well as the monks of Dabra Libanos, who had
previously sent him their wishes that he might be victorious with
their prior Abba Endreyas. Our King made this church
numerous presents: 150 ounces of gold, 30 genedja worked with gold, seven wagarat of pure silk, seven golden fans, several other precious objects and 2,000 oxen; he entered into a
covenant of friendship with the monks, sat down at table with them in the convent and gave them 100 measures of land in Alat to celebrate the 29th of each month, the glorious anniversary of the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and in memory of the victory which he had gained that very day; this foundation exists still in our days. He gave to this monastery, which was the called Dabra Asebo, the name of Dabra Libanos endowed it with still more properties and manifested for this foundation a profound attachment and great veneration.

Let us now return to our tale.
After his return from the province of Dawaro, our King came to
Yalabash, where his father had formerly lived and where he him­self
had been born; he raised there a handsome shrine which he called
Martula Mikael. On the spot of his birth itself, called Telq, he
raised another church to which he gave the name of Asadu Mikael. He
installed one high priest for these two churches and endowed their
priests with lands. Then he had constructed a magnifi­cent shrine
at Enzoredja, which he called Dabra Sahin. From there he went into
the land of Kaleta, where he stayed for a short time, and then came
to the district of Iba, where he set up his quarters and grew
attached to it. It was then, at that place, that there was an
appari­tion of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of the light which was
treated above and which was visible to all, in all the land, on the
day of the feast of the glorious Cross, after he had put to death the children of Estifa (Stephanites) for having refused to worship Our Lady Mary and the cross, and it is in memory of this apparition that he called Dabra Berhan the shrine which he had raised and which he had made a superb edifice. The construction of this shrine did not last longer than 60 days, for he had ordered all the Aqet Jar to make haste. The inhabitants of Gedem and of Gana, those of Ifat and of Fatagar, as well as all the shums of Shoa, brought materials to cover it. He established his residence at Dabra
Berhan and during his stay in that locality, he toiled at
strengthening the institutions of the kingdom. He had a royal
residence constructed, surrounded by a strong wall, such as had never been built by any of his predecessors: it is there that a great many of the regulations were framed.

When the plague decimated the
land, he commanded all the inhabitants of each locality to come
together in order to bury the dead, carrying a stick and tree
branches and sprinkling holy water. He gave to this gathering of men
the name of "Congregation of the Gospel and called their sticks
the " Stick of Moses." The shums were given the order to
pillage the houses and to seize the goods of those who did not
conform to these prescriptions and did not bury the dead in their

Chapter on the Organisation of the Administration of Ethiopia

Our King Zara Yaqob conferred
on the princesses, his daughters, the government of Ethiopia and,
during his reign, there had not been another Belit Wadad except for
Amda Sayton, who was demoted soon after his nomination and condemned
to exile for his crimes against the King. I have not been privy to
the secret delicts which he had committed, but he committed publicly
a very great one by marrying, though married
to a princess, another woman and by subsequently marrying her
off to the Sasargue Amda Iyasus. It was for these reasons that he
was called Amha Sayton and condemned to exile as well as the Sasargue
Amha Iyasus. The office of Belit Wadad was then conferred on his
wife, Berhan Zamada, who occupied the place on the left, and that of
the right was conferred on Madhen Zamada. The government of Tigre
was en­trusted to Del Somera, that of Augot to
Bahr Mangesha, that of Begander to Sabala Maryam, that of Amhara to
Amata Mashili, that of Gedem to Sofya, that of the Shoa to Rom
Ganayala, that of Gojam to Asnaf Samera, and Tewoderos was instituted
Yojon Sabar Ras. But the Gad Yestan of these princesses ravaged
their provinces, for, at that time, there were no royal delegates,
but they themselves were the delegates and Ethiopia was delivered up
to pillage. It is at the instigation of these Gad Yestan that Amba
Nahad, shum of Salamt, Sagey, shum of Samen and the shum Kantiba
revolted. After having abandoned the faith of Christians, they
embraced the Jewish religion, killed a great number of the
inhabitants of the province of Amhara, and when the King came to do
battle with them, they defeated his troops, drove them away and
burned down all churches in their districts. This is how the
Christians came to be ruined by these Gad Yestan who took away all
their goods, pillaged their houses and did not even leave them the
Mateb around their necks. Their ravages were not perpetrated solely
against people in their part of the country, but extended to all the
people of Ethiopia.

How the Princesses and several other persons were put to death
and punished

At that time appeared evil
men called Taowqa Berhan and Zara Seyon whose hearts Satan had
filled with evil thoughts. They denounced to the King these
princesses and other persons who they declared having prostrated
themselves with the princesses before Dasak and Dino; they also
brought up against them many other accusations known to the King
only; the crime of idolatry is the only one which has been revealed
to the public. The King punished severely these princes called
Tewoderos, Galowdewos, Amde Seyon, Zara Abreham and others whose
names I cannot recollect, as well as his daughters Asnaf Somera, Del
Samere and others. He then summoned a great assembly, and
showing those who composed it the pains and heavy punishment
inflicted on his children, he said to them: "See how I have
acted with my children; in my zeal for God, I have not spared them
for having sinned against Him. Now, say whether you consider
this calvary sufficient or if, for the glory of god, we should still
increase it". Then all the people present burst into tears and
replied: "What punishment could be added to this one, O King our
Lord, for they are on the point of death". Some of the royal
progeny died at the place of torture and others at their quarters.
Besides there was a great number of Ethiopians whose names I do not
know, who were put to death or condemned to other pains, for in these
accusations brought by Zara Seyon, Taowqa Berhan and Gabre Krestos,
these sons of Satan, were comprised judges, governors, monks,
poor and rich; but afterwards the accusers were arrested
themselves, punished severely for their evil deeds and condemned to
imprisonment. Zara Seyon died where he was imprisoned, uttering these
words: "See how Abba Endreyas of Dabra Libanos pierces me with a
lance of fire". For it was on his accusation that this prior was
seized and imprisoned and died in his prison. As for Gabra Krestos,
the King Baeda Maryam seized him later and killed him, and Taowqa
Berhan died in prison.

How the King reorganised the administration of Ethiopia which he
had previously entrusted to his daughters.

The King named in each province
an Adagsh to whom he gave, according to the district, the title of
Raq Masre or of Hagano. Similarly he took in hand the administration
of the clergy and nothing remained outside his authority. He directed
to Dabra Libanos the revenues of Shoa which had been granted to a
Tsahafe Lam155 and those destined for the maintenance of
some Tsewa which had been granted to Baala Damo, Baala Diho, Jan
Shanqa and Badel Dagan. As for other revenues of Ethiopia, he
ear­marked for himself alone and directed their yield for the
maintenance of his table and for his personal needs.

King made also the following prescriptions: When you invoke the name
of God, all you Christians, say at first: "I prostrate myself
before the magnificence of his Kingship", then invoke his name.
Likewise, when you will want to invoke the name of our Lady Mary,
say: "It is meet to prostrate oneself before her virginity,"
then invoke it. Finally, when you hear our word or when you appear
before us, say, always prostrating youselves: "We prostrate
ourselves before the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, who gave us
as King, Zara Yaqob". After a reign of thirty five years, during
which he made all these prescriptions, fixed and strengthened
institutions and had written new work, our King Zara Yaqob died in
peace at Dabra Berhan.

I have just told the story of
our king, Zara Yaqob, the peer of the elect disciples and the
exterminator of the Jews. May God receive him in his celestial court,
which has always been the goal of his desires, and may He prolong the
days of his son Lebna Dengel, without that his glory be diminished,
till the disappearance of heaven and earth. Amen.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on him be praises and blessings, share with
our King Zara Yaqob the celestial Jerusalem, and his temple, without
examining his deeds and without judging him severely; may He grant
his son Lebna Dengel the power to destroy the unbelievers; may He
bless his reign and guard for ever his body and soul against all
blemish ! Amen.

3 The herald acted
as a public crier.

4 Hayq is on the
confines of Shoa and Geshe. According to Ludolf (Comment ad
Hist Ethiop., p. 264) exile was the punish­ment reserved
for the nobility

5 The Aqabe Saat
(guardian of the hour) was one of the principal court officials
in Ethiopia.

6 Gift of Sion.

7 The Djagual.

8 The Amharic
Malkana means governor or director.

9 Bent Waded:
only the gate; important royal officials ranking as
principal chamberlains.

10 The house of
Solomon through the Queen of Sheba.

11 One of the chief
judges of the kingdom.

12 A monastery in

13 Satan has
glorified him.

14 A place of

15 An official of
the royal household.

16 Majordomo or

17 General of the

18 Title of a
provincial governor.

19 Gar-ad, one of
the numerous titles conferred on governors of provinces.

20 Hadya, a kingdom
in the south of Ethiopia.

21 Title conferred
on favourite wives of the King.

22 Lady of the Right.

23 The King used to
invite chiefs to " come to his door."

24 Gadayto, a
district of Hadya.

25 On the Hawash

26 All districts of

27 A locality which
cannot be placed with exactitude.

28 Basar Shotal
(dagger for the enemy), probably the name of a crack regiment.

29 i.e , priests
and monks.

30 This vision is
later attributed to the King himself.

31 A regiment (?)

32 Amba, mountain.

33 Cambric.

34 Silk cloth

35 Probably the
main gate, today known as Dadj Salamta.

36 A palisaded

37 Raq Masarotj is
the plural of Rao; Masare, an official of the royal household

38 Jan Masare,
another official of the royal household, a master of ceremonies
who introduces foreigners to the throne.

39 i.e., their
robes of office.

40 One of the
divisions of the royal court.

41 Principal

42 The Gate of
Food, i.e., the kitchen gate

43 Tent of

44 Tent of the

45 The Lebanon
Monastery in Shoa.

46 The Monastery of
Mary in Begemder.

47 Bizan in

48 On an island in
Lake Tana.

49 The Halleluia
Convent in Tigre near Aksum.

50 A Shanqalla
village near the Mogereib river, an affluent of the Barka.

51 In Arnhara.

52 In the province
of Fatagar.

53 i.e., the
benefactor, a honorific title of the King.

54 Servant of the

55 Plant of Mary.

56 Servant of

57 Upper front.

58 One of the high
judges, guardian of the royal household.

59 Lower front.

60 Fatagar House,
perhaps where the revenues from Fatagar Province were stored.

61 The word Tsewa
means soldier in Amharic. tout here it seems to mean guard
regiments attendant on the King or pro­vincial garrisons.
All the names that follow are the names of the different

62 Guardian.


64 Plural of
Azaz, "he who commands"; another plural
Azazotj; modern meaning, majordomo; contemporary
mean­ing, royal secretary.

65 Probably
ceremonial apron.

66 Nobles, sing,

67 Supreme judge of
appeal for ecclesiastics.

68 Another supreme

69 Title of one of
the officials of the royal household.

70 Names of Tsewas
similar to those mentioned before.

71 Royal jewel
house and wardrobe.

72 "Royal
Tent,’ i.e., the Nazret Bet was as large as 30 tents.

73 The Barakat Bet
where presents brought for the King were deposited.

74 Ornate garments.

75 Gera Baaltehat,
Queen of the Left, Qan Baaltehat, Queen of the Right; Baaleta
Shehena may be another title of Qan Baaltshat.

76 Probably the
royal chaplain.

77 According to
Bruce, one of the chief judges also charged with driving away
hyenas and other wild beasts from the gate of the royal palace.

78 Among the 44
chief judges there were four Liqa Matone Qaqetoj.

79 Probably
governors of Dabra Djego and Damo.

Wagedat, Shaname and Magarga, meaning unknown.